US President Joe Biden has called on Congress to deliver on a legislative agenda for historic clean energy and climate action that would enable America to double renewables production, spur domestic manufacturing supply chain investments and create millions of jobs.
In an hour-long State of the Union speech, he lobbied lawmakers for renewable energy and electric vehicle tax credits, core elements of his stalled $2trn Build Back Better bill that seeks to reassert US leadership on climate.
Biden said it was necessary to act for the country to “withstand the devastating effects of the climate crisis”, but also argued that embracing clean energy would reduce energy costs for consumers facing soaring gasoline prices while helping combat the highest inflation in 40 years in the country.
The House of Representatives narrowly passed the partisan bill, but it failed to advance in the evenly divided Senate in December. The House version would have funded about $550bn to drive decarbonisation mostly in the power and transport sectors, the biggest sources of US greenhouse gas emissions.
The Build Back Better bill seeks to create new federal tax credits for battery storage, clean energy manufacturing, and transmission development, while extending and making those for solar and wind more lucrative for project sponsors that meet certain domestic content and labour requirements.
According to the White House, the bill would have significantly advanced the country toward Biden’s four core climate-related 2030 targets: a 50-52% reduction from 2005 levels in economy-wide net emissions, in line with the Paris Agreement; an 80% decline in utility sector emissions; installation of 30GW offshore wind capacity, and for electric vehicles to comprise half of all US automobile sales.
Biden did not say if he would work with majority Democrats in both houses to pass a revised version of Build Back Better or reformulate the clean energy and climate provisions into separate legislation.
After Biden's speech, moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, the swing vote in the Senate who opposes the bill as written, said all of his concerns about its size and scope remain. "Nothing's changed. I've never found that you can lower costs by spending more," he said.
On Wednesday, Manchin told Politico that Democrats need to focus on repurposing money to reduce the federal deficit and 40-year high inflation and fund at least one major policy priority that the party can coalesce around through this decade.
He appeared to pour cold water on breaking the bill into separate components to secure passage. "Not until you get your financial house in order can you do that," he told reporters.
Biden spent part of his speech lauding passage last year of bipartisan legislation that earmarks $1trn for infrastructure investment including almost $100bn for clean energy innovation and demonstration, , electric grid and transportation, offshore wind ports, and carbon management, capture and removal.
“We’re going to have an infrastructure decade. It’s going to transform America and put us on a path to win the economic competition of the 21st century that we face with the rest of the world – particularly with China,” said Biden.
He also claimed initial successes in his administration’s strategy to re-shore manufacturing supply chains for clean energy and other critical areas such as semiconductors. He cited announcements by Ford and General Motors to invest a combined $18bn here to build electric vehicles and create 18,000 jobs.
“There’s something happening in America. Just look around and you’ll see an amazing story. The rebirth of the pride that comes from stamping products ‘Made in America’. The revitalisation of American manufacturing,” he said. “Companies are choosing to build new factories here, when just a few years ago, they would have built them overseas.”
Clean energy lobby and trade groups were supportive of Biden’s call for climate action by Congress.
'Emphatic and unmistakably clear'
“President Biden’s first State of the Union address was emphatic and unmistakably clear about the urgency of rapid clean energy investment,” said Heather Zichal, CEO of the American Clean Power Association.
She urged Congress to act on “critical investments and tax credits for the renewable energy industry that have broad bipartisan support.”
American Council on Renewable Energy CEO Gregory Wetstone said: “I am encouraged by President Biden’s renewed push for historic investments in clean energy, including tax incentives to accelerate the deployment of solar and wind power, during tonight’s address”.
The proposals would “save American families an average of $500 a year, offering an important reminder that addressing the climate crisis is both good for our planet and good for our economy,” he said
“Working with congressional leaders, President Biden also proposed transformational investments in domestic manufacturing to strengthen and onshore our clean energy supply chain.”
Industry leaders also sought to frame clean energy development within the context of Russia’s war with Ukraine.
“Threats from hostile countries, particularly in light of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, underscore the urgency of our transition to a clean energy economy,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.
“With policies that support American clean energy manufacturing and the expansion of solar power and energy storage, we can become less dependent on energy and materials from countries that do not share our values or our interests<’ she="" added.<="" p="">
John Begala, vice president of federal and state policy at the Business Network for Offshore Wind, noted: “The case for safeguarding our energy independence by developing the US renewable energy industry has never been clearer.”
Updates with Senator Manchin comments</’>