Energy Policy Researcher Says Biden's Jobs Plan Tackles Climate Change

Apr 9, 2021
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This past week, President Joe Biden unveiled the details of his $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. It's called the American Jobs Plan. Republican critics have called it a Trojan horse for the Green New Deal. That's the legislative framework supported by some of the most progressive Democrats in Congress to tackle climate change and inequality by transforming huge parts of the economy. Experts who've studied Biden's plan say it does share some key qualities with the Green New Deal, but that's no secret.

I spoke about it and its focus on climate change with Dr. Leah Stokes. She's a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who also researches energy policy.

LEAH STOKES: Well, the Green New Deal is a framework resolution. It's not really very detailed. This is a very detailed, you know, 25-page document. And the Green New Deal is more of a framework about, you know, let's take on climate change, and let's take on the inequality crisis at the same time. And in that way, I would say, you know, the American Jobs Plan is also very focused on taking on climate change and inequality.

CORNISH: Is there anything more specific than just the whole thing can help the climate? Are there any policies that specifically will have impacts based on what we know in terms of research?

STOKES: When it comes to rebuilding our infrastructure, that's fundamentally about addressing climate change, whether that's reducing our emissions to stop the catastrophic effects of climate change or hardening our infrastructure so that when hurricanes and heat waves and flooding and all these climate impacts continue to hit the United States, we have more resilient infrastructure.

A clean electricity standard is a core part of the plan, and a clean electricity standard has the potential to clean up our entire electricity system, which is the second biggest source of emissions. And there's also a focus on cleaning up the industrial sector. And when we add up the emissions from electricity, transportation, buildings and the industrial sector, we can actually get to between 70 to 80% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

CORNISH: Do you see a particular policy as being controversial? Like, what will you be looking for in the debate?

STOKES: I don't know if there will be something that's controversial. I think that the most focus that people have been talking about is the size of spending. Some folks on the right, many Republican politicians, they want there to be no spending on this issue. And then many others, including young people who are very concerned about the crisis that's being left to their generation, they want even more spending. They want a bolder vision here. And I think that's really the locus of the debate at this point.

CORNISH: Where in this package do you see the need for more action?

STOKES: Well, I think like many other advocates, I think spending is really important, that if we want to, for example, retrofit all the homes in America, getting rid of dirty fossil gas from homes, which is actually quite dangerous to people's health and well-being, you know, we need a bigger plan when it comes to retrofits. Right now, I think the plan is trying to retrofit something like 2 million homes. That might be the number. And when I talk to advocates, they say we need to be retrofitting 2 million homes every six months to really be on track with our climate goals.

And the same thing about electric vehicles. You know, electric vehicles are really a great option for people. And once you buy one, they're much cheaper to operate. But in order to get people to buy them in the first place, we need a lot of federal support to make them as cheap as a gas-powered car. And so, you know, that's where I think we need to be moving as fast as possible to really be turning over our infrastructure quickly to address our carbon emissions.

CORNISH: That's Dr. Leah Stokes.

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

STOKES: Thanks so much for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.