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Breaking Down the Build Back Better Act
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Breaking Down the Build Back Better Act

A look at the climate provisions in the bill.

Good Friday morning. We hope you didn’t spend your free time this week reading House Democrats’ Build Back Better Act, because we’ve done it for you.

The legislation is sweeping. We published a similar edition of Uphill earlier this year about the Democratic coronavirus relief package, but we’ll be breaking the details of this bill into multiple newsletters for readability (and our sanity). Today, we’re focusing on the package’s climate provisions. 

We’ve included larger outlays and items that stood out to us, but this isn’t comprehensive. We relied on the legislative text, as well as the House Budget Committee’s section-by-section analysis of the package. We hope your eyes don’t glaze over too much while reading this. Some of it is incredibly dry—you’ll begin to wonder how many grant programs the government can possibly carry out—but we know a lot of readers appreciated our earlier edition along these lines, and many of you like to have a more detailed grasp of legislation than you’ll get from most news stories about it. 

One more disclaimer: Some of this could change in the coming weeks. This is just the version of the bill expected to pass soon (maybe today??) in the House. 

Electric vehicles: The Energy Department would receive $3.5 billion to disburse as grants to support domestic manufacturing of electric vehicles. The bill also includes $100 million through September 2028 for states to build publicly accessible electric vehicle infrastructure and charging stations. 

Nearly $6 billion would go to the U.S. Postal Service for the purchase of electric delivery vehicles and the rollout of charging infrastructure at USPS facilities.

On the individual level, the legislation includes an expanded tax credit of up to $12,500 to incentivize purchases of union-made electric vehicles that are manufactured in the United States.

Transportation: $10 billion through September 2026 would go toward the development of high-speed rail projects. The Department of Transportation would receive $247 million for the production of sustainable aviation fuels and $47 million for low-emission aviation technology.

$3 billion through September 2028 would go toward direct loans to support manufacturing in the United States to produce medium or heavy-duty vehicles, trains, maritime vessels, aircraft, or hyperloop technology. Another $4 billion is included as financial assistance to install advanced technology at industrial and manufacturing facilities. 

Wildfires and forests: The measure provides $10 billion for hazardous fuel reduction to mitigate wildfire risks. In practice, this looks like thinning trees and removing underbrush that could provide easy fuel in the event of a wildfire. The legislation also includes $50 million for the protection of older forests on National Forest System land, another $50 million for at-risk species on such land, and additional resources for fire recovery in national forests.

The bill includes $2 billion in grants for forest restoration projects on non-federal land, and another $1 billion in grants to support community wildfire planning and the purchase of firefighting equipment. Several additional programs receive funding, including grants for fire recovery, tourism promotion, climate mitigation, and benefits for private landowners who conduct carbon capture and storage.

$2.5 billion would go to grants supporting tree planting.

The Environmental Protection Agency would receive $150 million to assist states and local governments in developing community plans to mitigate smoke exposure and health risks from wildfires. The bill also directs $230.5 million to the EPA for air quality monitoring grants. The agency would receive $50 million to measure and combat air pollution at public schools. 

The bill directs $500 million to the Department of the Interior for a wide range of fire management activities, such as remote sensing technology, research, construction of firefighting infrastructure, and rehabilitation of wildlife that has been burned.

Emissions: The bill includes $29 billion for the development and production of low and zero-emission technologies. $7 billion of that will be distributed as grants through September 2024 for low-income communities to deploy zero-emission technologies on residential rooftops. $2 billion of that amount is intended to support the purchase and installation of equipment to charge or fuel electric vehicles and light-duty zero-emission vehicles.

The bill also includes $3.5 billion to subsidize zero-emission equipment at ports. 

An additional $775 million would go toward grants, loans, and other programs conducted by the EPA to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas methane. The legislation mandates thresholds for waste emissions from petroleum and natural gas facilities, as well as a charge on emissions over the threshold. That fee would begin at $900 per ton of methane over the emissions threshold in 2023, increasing to $1,200 per ton in 2024, and $1,500 per ton in 2025 and each year after. This could be on the chopping block in the Senate—West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has expressed reservations about it.

The bill also sends $40 billion to the Department of Energy through September 2026 for loan guarantees intended to support the commercial use of new technologies that reduce or avoid air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions.

The package establishes a $950 million grant program under the Federal Highway Administration to incentivize reductions in state greenhouse gas emissions. An additional $3 billion through September 2026 would go toward carbon reduction grants for local governments, territories, and other smaller entities.

Communities: Many of the programs in the bill call for approving grants with an eye toward rural, low-income, or disadvantaged communities. One program gives broad environmental assistance to such communities, directing $3 billion to environmental and climate justice grants through the end of September 2026. Among other uses, grant recipients will be able to use the money for monitoring and addressing air pollution, investing in infrastructure to reduce greenhouse emissions, and mitigating urban heat islands and wildfires.

$441 million would go to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for use through September 2031 for tribal climate resilience efforts. The Bureau of Indian Affairs would receive $294 million more for electrification of tribal homes and upgrades with renewable systems. $25 million through September 2026 would go toward drought relief and mitigation for Indian tribes.

And $49 million would go to climate adaptation and resilience activities for the native Hawaiian community. 

Water: Build Back Better includes $9 billion through the end of September 2026 for lead remediation grants, including for filtration devices and new water fountains in schools and childcare programs. It also directs $970 million to the Department of Agriculture for grants to replace lead water lines. 

$550 million would go toward water supply projects in Western states that face challenges accessing water sources. Additional money is included to invest in water reclamation projects around the country.

Energy retrofits: ​​The bill subsidizes home energy upgrades, such as high-efficiency natural gas heating and air conditioning systems. This includes $5.89 billion in grants through the end of September 2030 for states to provide rebates for home and building owners who invest in energy-saving retrofits. The bill outlines rebates of varying sizes—from $2,000 to $4,000 for single-family homes depending on how much energy is projected to be saved as a result of the upgrades. Multifamily building owners will be able to qualify for up to $200,000 per building when retrofits achieve at least 20 percent modeled energy savings, and up to $400,000 for those with at least 35 percent modeled energy savings. (The rebates for multifamily buildings are the same as those for single-family homes, just divided per each dwelling unit.) Larger rebates of $4,000 to $8,000 are included for homes and buildings occupied by lower-income residents.

The legislation also provides $360 million in grants for programs to train contractors on how to install energy efficiency retrofits. 

$2.226 billion would go to the Department of Energy through the end of September 2031 for a rebate program for homeowners and multifamily building owners who install high-efficiency electricity projects, as well as $3.8 billion for electrification projects in tribal communities and low or moderate income households. The maximum amount for these rebates under the legislation is $10,000—but the amounts vary according to the kinds of projects, such as replacing nonelectric stoves. The bill also directs the energy secretary to pay contractor companies and providers $100 per completion of each qualified electrification project.

Critical infrastructure: The Department of Energy would receive $500 million to distribute to states through the end of September 2031 for boosting resiliency, efficiency, the use of renewables, and grid integration at public and nonprofit buildings.

Research: The package provides $1 billion through September 2026 to an office of the Department of Energy dealing with renewable energy for demonstrations of advanced technologies. It also includes $985 million for research on low-dose radiation and fusion at the Energy Department’s office of science. 

$100 million would go to the Environmental Protection Agency for air quality and climate research.

Through the end of September 2028, NASA would receive $85 million for climate change research, as well as $25 million for wildfire research and development. An additional $225 million would go toward research on sustainable aviation technologies.

The National Science Foundation would receive $500 million through September 2028 dedicated to climate change research.

$100 million would go to the National Institute of Standards and Technology through September 2028 for wildfire research. 

A combined $400 million would go to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through September 2026 for climate research, grants, and education on climate adaptation. An additional $20 million would go to NOAA to pursue public education efforts regarding climate change. 

$50 million would go to the U.S. Geological Survey for use through September 2031 related to water resources research.

Marine ecosystems: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive $6 billion through September 2026 to assist coastal states and local governments, nonprofits, and higher education institutions in conserving coastal and marine habitats.

The legislation directs another $1 billion to NOAA for restoration of Pacific salmon and steelhead fish populations, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars to invest in fish hatcheries and new piers and laboratories.

Endangered species: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would receive $4.85 million to conserve endangered and threatened plants in the Hawaiian Islands and Pacific Island territories. Another $4.85 million would go toward conservation of pollinator species, such as bumblebees. The same amount would go toward protecting threatened species of freshwater mussels, and another $4.85 million for conserving endangered desert fish.

Land: The bill sends $242.5 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to go toward mitigation and response to invasive species as well as boosting climate resiliency of National Wildlife Refuge System and state wildlife land. $38.8 million is included to protect and restore grassland habitats.

The Department of the Interior would receive $1.25 billion through September 2031 for conservation and management of National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management land. Another combined $1.25 billion would go to Interior for restoration and resiliency projects on federal land. 

The bill also includes money for purchase of land to establish urban parks.

Oil and gas: The legislation repeals provisions in Republicans’ 2017 tax bill that opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development. It also boosts fees on the oil and gas industry and bans new leases for offshore oil and gas production in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The bill includes incentives for fuel companies and distributors to upgrade their equipment to support the sale and storage of biofuels. It also provides $9.7 billion in the form of grants and loans for electricity companies to buy renewable energy and renewable energy systems, with a focus on making the highest impact in rural communities.

Of Note

Haley Wilt is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.