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Breaking down the infrastructure bill’s impact on climate change

The current infrastructure bill includes $150 billion for clean energy and climate change protections. Tens of billions would also be utilized to fight extreme weather like drought, wildfire, flooding and erosion, with a host of smaller programs like low-emission busses, cleaner ports and even more trees. Rebecca Leber, who covers climate change for Vox, joins Lisa Desjardins to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This week, we are turning our focus each night to the trillion-dollar bipartisan infrastructure package and different ways it aims to help the country.

    The bill makes historic investments in roads, bridges, clean water and broadband.

    But, as Lisa Desjardins reports, it also includes some unexpected provisions on climate change.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is an infrastructure bill. It's not a climate bill.

    But given the little amount of action on the issue so far, what is in this bill would make it the most significant climate legislation to come out of Congress yet.

    It would include $150 billion for clean energy and to protect from climate change. Tens of billions are to fight drought and respond to wildfire, flooding and erosion. And there's a host of smaller programs, low-emission buses, cleaner ports, streets with less run-off, even more trees.

    To help us understand what this means, I'm joined by Rebecca Leber, who covers climate change for Vox.

    Rebecca, tell us, what do you think are the most significant things in this bill for climate change?

  • Rebecca Leber:

    I think this addresses two important sectors that contribute to climate change.

    One is our transportation sector. So, the bill makes a lot of investments in electric vehicles and also public transit, which are both critical to bringing down our pollution and the biggest contributor to climate change. It also makes big investments in the electricity sector, so improving things like transmission and electric-buying parts of the country that also make it critical to cleaning up the economy.

    In addition, this bill addresses the impacts of climate change. So, we have to both bring down emissions at the same time that we prepare for the impacts we know are here and are coming.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We spoke to a young woman from California who is experiencing climate change right now.

    I want to play what she told us today. Her name is Caroline Choi.

  • Caroline Choi:

    I live in an island in the Bay Area in California.

    And within 35 years, part of where I live is going to be flooded and underwater due to sea level rise. Every time I bike on one of our bridges, I can look over the side and see that the water is almost at eye level.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So, that's happening now in real time.

    Rebecca, you mentioned this, but I'm wondering, overall, what do you get from this bill about whether lawmakers are now thinking more about bracing for climate change vs. actually trying to prevent it?

  • Rebecca Leber:

    The U.S. has lagged in its investments on climate change when you look at how it compares to other countries.

    So, this bill is historic, in that the government is finally putting funds in addressing the impacts of climate change. So, we have finally both parties acknowledging, at least in a bill, that people like this young woman are dealing with the actual impacts of sea level rise and increased flooding and wildfires.

    So, this bill provides additional funding for some key federal programs, like FEMA, like the Army Corps of Engineers, like the Department of Agriculture, that all play pivotal roles in providing grants to people to prepare their homes and their communities from the effects of wildfires and flooding.

    So it represents historic investment in these kinds of programs to help prepare for these impacts and the impact we're already seeing unfold this summer.

    Now, there's also the longer-term track, where we have to actually bring down our emissions as fast as possible, so we hit about net zero emissions by mid-century. That's critical for keeping climate change under a disastrous 1.5 degrees Celsius.

    So, the bill also has to address the amount of pollution that the U.S. is responsible for, though it falls far short of investments that are actually needed to fully transition to clean sectors.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I know many climate change activists are looking to the next bill that Democrats hope to pass, the so-called reconciliation bill.

    Just briefly, in 30 seconds or so, how much do you think that bill could do on climate? That's the big hope, I guess, from that side.

  • Rebecca Leber:

    Yes, this entire bill and what it means for climate really comes down to what happens in reconciliation. And, now, that's the parallel track that Democrats are pursuing.

    Those numbers are critical to see if we actually get those investments that's needed. And I think the policies to watch there include a clean electricity standard that sets an actual path for phasing out coal and even natural gas in this country. And other things to watch out for are clean energy tax credits, and how Democrats address other sectors, like our buildings and pollution from other parts of the economy that are just left out in the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, we will keep watching and we will keep asking you as well.

    Rebecca Leber from Vox, thank you so much.

  • Rebecca Leber:

    Thank you.

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