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As Build Back Better renegotiations heat up in Congress, so do local perspectives on the plan

Environmental provisions in Biden's plan debated
Community solar
Posted at 6:30 PM, Jan 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-26 20:43:25-05

DENVER — There are many provisions in President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan that are up in the air, and certainly in the discussion for alteration or removal, following the plan's failure to make it through the Senate.

Members of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group hope the plan's multi-billion dollar climate change and clean air policies remain unfazed in the renegotiation process. They discussed the matter in a teleconference meeting Wednesday.

"The majority of those provisions come in the form of tax credits and rebates that will make it easier for everyone to put solar panels on their homes, make their homes more energy efficient or less reliant on gas and be able to convert to an electric vehicle for their vehicle use," said Danny Katz, executive director of CoPIRG.

The provisions include, in part, nearly $6 billion in rebates for electrification projects and home energy efficiency, $800 million for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, $29 billion for a fund to contribute towards greenhouse gas reduction, $5 billion for EPA grants and $5 billion to produce electric garbage trucks and school buses.

Pediatric Emergency Physician and CoPIRG member Dr. Nikita Habermehl points to 2021, the worst ozone pollution year for Colorado, as to why these provisions are more than necessary.

"I'm treating more and more children with chronic respiratory illnesses like asthma," Habermehl said. "We need to take more aggressive action on air quality so that future generations don't need to suffer unnecessarily."

The plan also includes a methane emissions tax, which would be slapped onto oil and natural gas industries. But not everyone wants to see all of the clean air provisions remain.

Kathleen Sgamma is the president of Western Energy Alliance, a company that represents oil and natural gas producers in the Rocky Mountain West. She says she doesn't particularly have an issue with the attempt to diversify energy sources in Biden's plan, but asserts that a methane emissions tax is counter-intuitive to a healthier environment.

"An emissions tax is problematic to us because you can't measure the emissions. So the way the House did it just basically attacks on natural gas," Sgamma said. "Natural gas has been the number one reason the United States has reduced more greenhouse gas emissions than any other country in the world."

Sgamma also views the transition to electric energy sources as a gradual endeavor rather than an immediate halt of current infrastructure that dominates economies.

"When you look at electrifying everything, which some people advocate for, the electricity grid can't handle that right now," she said. "Ninety-eight percent of US transportation is powered by oil. That's trucking, cars, planes, everything. You don't replace that with the electrical grid in 10 years ... you'd have to spend trillions, not the amount in the Build Back Better Act. The electrical grid just can't handle that."

Regardless of what side of the matter one finds themselves in, Build Back Better has had a tough road so far. Even tougher conversations regarding other provisions in the plan are set to take place before anything is likely to pass.