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The White House Is Seeking To Soothe Worries That It's Pushing Climate Plans Aside

Hundreds of young climate activists rally outside of the White House Monday to demand that President Biden fulfill promises on addressing climate change after a bipartisan infrastructure deal left many priorities aside.
Hundreds of young climate activists rally outside of the White House Monday to demand that President Biden fulfill promises on addressing climate change after a bipartisan infrastructure deal left many priorities aside.

The Biden administration is trying to make clear they are committed to passing and signing the major clean energy proposals President Biden had initially framed as a centerpiece of his infrastructure proposal after those priorities were set aside in last week's bipartisan deal struck with moderate senators.

The signals, including a memo from senior White House advisers, come amid an uptick of frustration and pushback from environmental advocates who were upset that so many climate proposals were scaled down or stripped out of the $1.2 trillion proposal Biden endorsed last week.

"No climate, no deal" had become a progressive rallying cry as Biden negotiated with a group of moderate Republicans and Democrats, and it became increasingly clear that many of the high-cost, high-impact climate proposals would be left out.

Many key White House allies, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, have threatened to vote against the bipartisan deal if an additional, larger spending measure did not include trillions of dollars in clean energy investments, along with other Democratic priorities.

While the smaller bipartisan measure would require 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster, the second package could be passed with only Democratic votes through the Senate budget process known as reconciliation, if the party sticks together.

Biden allies protest his approach

In a memo, National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy and Biden senior adviser Anita Dunn defended the bipartisan deal's broad strokes, saying it includes "transformational investments in clean energy, water and power infrastructure, climate resiliency, and more." Still, they added, "we know more work needs to be done," and underscored the White House will push for trillions of dollars in additional clean energy efforts in the upcoming reconciliation measure,

Speaking to Punchbowl News, McCarthy called a long-term tax credit and a clean energy standard — two items environmental advocates have focused on as top priorities — "nonnegotiable" in that reconciliation bill.

"We need to make sure that we're sending a signal that we want renewable energy, and we want it to win in the marketplace," McCarthy said.

Earlier in the week, the Biden administration had found itself being protested by allies. Protesters aligned with the Sunrise Movement, a high-profile climate advocacy group made up mostly of young people, had rallied across the street from the White House, and eventually blocked several of its exits, holding up signs calling Biden a "coward," among other things.

That's despite the fact that the group worked with Biden to craft climate policy during the presidential campaign, and remains in regular touch with top Biden advisers like chief of staff Ron Klain.

"When the next climate disaster hits, the next wildfire comes or the next hurricane comes, it won't be bipartisanship that saves us all," said spokesman John Paul Mejia, an 18-year-old from Miami. "It will be a historic investment of $10 trillion in all of our communities that keeps us resilient." (That figure is far above what even some of the most progressive Democrats in Congress are discussing.)

Biden's team says more can be done in a larger Democratic spending bill

McCarthy, White House press secretary Jen Psaki and other White House officials have pointed to funding for electric vehicles and school busses in the bipartisan measure, as well as funding to install 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations across the country.

The agreement would also fund efforts to find and plug abandoned oil and gas wells — a dangerous source of greenhouse gas emissions.

"This is a down payment, and the president will continue to advocate for, press for, work for even more on the climate, as he will in the reconciliation bill, and the process moving forward," Psaki said at the White House press briefing Monday.

But with record heat waves, wildfires, and hurricane seasons starting to seem like the norm, many climate advocates say they're tired of "down payments" — especially since many of the items the White House is touting in the deal would be funded at a fraction of the cost Biden first proposed.

In addition to the long-term tax credits and clean energy standard McCarthy has pledged to push for in the reconciliation bill, key Biden promises missing from the bipartisan infrastructure bill include money for a new Civilian Climate Corps to work on environmental projects across the country, incentives to speed up better energy efficiency in buildings, and firm plans to funnel projects and funding to historically disadvantaged and polluted areas of the U.S.

All that, and more, would put the measure in the trillions. But Mejia and other young activists say the cost is worth it, to keep climate change from getting worse. "There should be no compromises, no excuses," he said. "We have a Democratic rule in D.C. right now, and we should be using that."

A new poll commissioned by the League of Conservation Voters and Climate Power and shared with NPR shows younger voters and Biden voters who sat out earlier elections are more likely to be energized to show up and vote next year by big spending on climate, compared to whether bills are passed on bipartisan measures.

But the challenge the White House is dealing with — on climate and nearly every other agenda item — is that Democratic control is tenuous. Just a handful of seats give the party a majority in the House, and it's an even split in the Senate.

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