Infrastructure bill is 'fossil fuel business as usual,' Dem congressman says in Glasgow

·Senior Climate Editor
·6 min read

GLASGOW, Scotland — Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., told Yahoo News that the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure bill will worsen climate change unless it is paired with the Build Back Better bill that is currently mired in the Senate.

“Most of that infrastructure bill could have been written in the 1980s,” Huffman said, to explain why it was able to win some Republican support even though it contained funding for electric vehicle deployment and other initiatives that could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., is seen during a house vote in the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 22, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images)
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images)

“Take out the broadband, and that was a 1980s infrastructure bill, with some crumbs for electric vehicle charging mixed in with gray hydrogen,” said Huffman, referring to federal subsidies for hydrogen made from fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal.

“It’s not a climate bill; it’s just not,” Huffman continued. “It has some elements that will amplify climate investments in the Build Back Better Act, and so we will talk about those amplifying benefits.”

For example, Build Back Better would devote tens of billions of dollars to subsidizing consumers switching to electric cars. The infrastructure bill’s investment in electric vehicle charging stations would then provide a greater climate benefit because they would be serving more cars.

Nineteen Republicans in the Senate and 13 in the House voted for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, but Huffman cautioned that subsidies for fossil fuels were the reason.

No Republicans, in contrast, intend to vote for Build Back Better.

“The Senate infrastructure bill itself — the reason it got all those Republican votes as a standalone — it’s pretty much fossil fuel business as usual,” Huffman said.

Huffman spoke to Yahoo News on Wednesday night after attending meetings and events as part of the 21-member Democratic House delegation at the U.N. Climate Change Conference.

U.S. officials in Glasgow have repeatedly touted both the infrastructure law and the Build Back Better package of domestic spending proposals, saying they are evidence that America can and will meet President Biden’s goal of cutting U.S. emissions by 50 percent by 2030.

A camera operator records events in a conference room at COP26.
A camera operator records events on day 12 of the COP26 conference in Glasgow on Thursday. (Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Huffman voted for the infrastructure bill on the grounds that if Build Back Better also passes, the infrastructure law will be more beneficial for the climate.

“I don’t want to be stepping on our message and trashing the Senate bill, because if you couple it with the Build Back Better Act, there really are some synergies and it can have some relational climate benefits,” he said. “But, if it’s all we do, it’s not good; it’s probably negative on climate, on emissions.”

In addition to the hydrogen component, Huffman objects to a $25 billion loan guarantee for a new liquefied natural gas facility being constructed in Alaska. Liquefied natural gas is especially harmful to the climate because in addition to what it adds in emissions via burning, it requires an energy-intensive process of freezing, shipping and then re-gasifying the product.

Other sources peg the loan guarantee at $18 billion. But in any case, Huffman was right when he told Yahoo that “that dwarfs any investments for clean energy” in the bill.

The congressman, who is an outspoken advocate for action to address climate change, also objected to the infrastructure bill’s laying the groundwork to exempt some gas and oil projects from the typical environmental review process, a provision some environmental groups opposed.

The bill contained “a lot of bad provisions that are certainly going to be welcomed by the fossil fuel industry,” Huffman concluded.

“In this day and age, you kind of have to choose: You can be bipartisan and do things that really aren’t very impactful on the climate crisis, or you can choose to make a difference on climate, and, at that point, you'll have no Republican support at all,” he said. “And that’s just a sad reality.”

“If you come to this conference and listen to the imperative of this climate crisis, you can’t do the things you have to do in the United States of America and have any Republican support in the Senate, and certainly no more than two or three members of the House,” Huffman said. “That’s sad, and it’s awful and all of us hate it, but it is the political reality.”

Vehicles drive past a petrochemical plant in Norco, La., after Hurricane Ida made landfall.
Vehicles drive past a petrochemical plant in Norco, La., on Aug. 30 after Hurricane Ida made landfall. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

“If push came to shove, and you had an important climate bill that required you to push back on the fossil fuel industry, I could count on less than one hand the number of House Republicans who would even consider that,” he said.

“You’ve got Brian Fitzpatrick [R-Pa.] and maybe [John] Katko [R-N.Y.], and you pretty quickly just run out of names.”

While four House Republicans belonging to the Conservative Climate Caucus came to Glasgow last week to support addressing climate change, they generally oppose restricting the use or production of fossil fuels. (Yahoo News interviewed Rep. John Curtis of Utah, founder of the caucus.)

“The truth is, if you have Republican control in the short term, we’re screwed: It is game over,” Huffman asserted. “If you believe the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] and all of the top scientists who are here in Glasgow, and the world community, when they say this is the decisive decade where we’ve got to keep 1.5 [degrees] Celsius in reach, and we have to do it through all of these dramatic reductions in methane and carbon pollution, honestly, any Republican-controlled scenario takes you in the opposite direction.”

Huffman does, however, believe that Build Back Better, which has majority support in the House, will get the crucial 50th Senate vote it needs from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. And that, in turn, with its massive investments in clean energy production, could put the U.S. on a pathway to decarbonization that keeps rolling during Republican administrations.

“The one scenario in which there could be Republican control at some point and we still could salvage the planet is if we could set transformative change in motion right now, like in the next few years, such that a Republican administration or a Republican House or Senate would be unable to undo all of these industry shifts,” he said.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., at the U.S. Capitol.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., at the Capitol on Nov. 1. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Build Back Better, combined with new Environmental Protection Agency rules limiting climate pollution and other actions from outside the federal government, could combine to get the emissions cuts needed, he argued.

“It puts us in the game; it gives us a fighting chance,” Huffman said of Build Back Better. “We’re going to need some help from states, and from local governments, from the private sector and all of the subnational players. We’re going to need some help from EPA and all the folks out there who are all shareholder activists and in the divestment movement. All of it has to ramp up.

“I think it puts us in the game and gives us a chance,” he said.

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