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US DOE, Interior officials laud infrastructure package, remain bullish on budget bill


Infrastructure bill includes $62 billion for DOE

Interior officials are unaware of oil, gas funding

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  • Ellie Potter    Jasmin Melvin
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  • Nick Jonson
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  • Coal Electric Power Energy Transition Natural Gas Metals
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  • United States

Biden administration officials touted the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure deal as the first step toward reaching the president's ambitious climate and clean energy targets, while sharing their optimism about the Build Back Better Act's eventual passage.

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The infrastructure bill includes more than $62 billion for the US Department of Energy to invest in a "more equitable clean energy future," helping the nation decarbonize its power sector by 2035 and economy by 2050, Tarak Shah, DOE's chief of staff, told reporters on Nov. 10.

"At its core, this deal is a long overdue investment in our nation's infrastructure, in our workers, in our families and our competitiveness," Shah said. "For those of us at DOE, the magnitude of these investments are historic and represent the single-largest change to our agency since its founding in 1977."

RD&D programs

The infrastructure bill would fund 60 new programs at DOE and expand funding for a dozen others, Shah said. Those include 16 demonstration and 32 deployment programs.

Once signed into law, the infrastructure legislation will invest $21.5 billion into clean energy demonstration and research hubs to advance technologies the Biden administration expects to help reach its mid-century, net-zero-emissions target, according to a DOE fact sheet.

That funding includes $8 billion for clean hydrogen, $2.5 billion for advanced nuclear, and more than $10 billion for carbon capture, direct air capture and industrial emission reductions.

Christopher Davis, senior advisor to the energy secretary, said the department will share the costs and risks of these technologies with the private sector as it seeks to build them at-scale through major demonstration projects.

"Once they are proven, the market will be able to accurately account for their costs and performance and replicate that technology," Davis said.

Congress passed the infrastructure bill on Nov. 5, and President Joe Biden announced Nov. 10 he intends to sign it on Nov. 15.

The House is expected to consider the Build Back Better Act, a second bill aimed at carrying out many of Biden's social and climate campaign pledges, as early as next week. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat-New York, reportedly said his party plans to send that bill to the president by Thanksgiving.

DOE officials remain "very bullish on what comes next," Shah said, referencing the Build Back Better Act.

"These two bills are part of a tandem," Shah said. "They are yin and yang, and we need them both."

DOE components

Additionally, the infrastructure bill contains more than $7 billion for battery supply chains, including funding to produce critical minerals, recycle materials and aid in manufacturing, according to the factsheet.

Another $1.5 billion would support clean hydrogen manufacturing and recycling research and development.

The legislation also contains $11 billion in grants for states, tribes and utilities to make their electricity infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather events and cyberattacks. With about $2.5 billion from the bill, the DOE would develop nationally significant transmission lines through a Transmission Facilitation Program as well.

Compared to other major funding bills, such as the American Rescue Plan passed earlier this year in response to a pandemic-driven economic decline, the infrastructure bill is "fundamentally a different animal," Davis said.

"This is a once-in-a-generation legislative effort to rebuild the country's infrastructure, something that legislators have been talking about for decades, and the president was able to finally get this done," Davis said.

"But what that means is it's not targeted at a specific time or a specific rescue. It's something that's trying to make a long-term investment in our competitiveness," he added.

Interior provisions

Department of the Interior officials touted the bill's investments aimed at bolstering the resilience of physical and natural systems to the worsening climate crisis, pointing particularly to funding for drought management, wildfire mitigation and the resilience of tribal communities.

"Unfortunately, drought, wildfire, sea level rise and flooding aren't going anywhere," Interior Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said on a Nov. 10 call with reporters.

"But it's within our capabilities to mitigate the effects of these natural disasters as much as possible. Taken together, these historic investments in climate resiliency underscore the administration's all-of-government approach to protecting our lands, our waters and our communities," Newland added.

Newland contended that the department stood "ready to implement this transformational investment in our country as quickly as possible."

Liz Klein, senior counselor to the Interior secretary, added the agency has focused on the climate change impacts to communities since Biden took office in January and is considering ways to make those communities more resilient.

"We have thoughts already on how we might prioritize some of the investments that we will receive," Klein said when asked how funds would be divvyed up across programs that are likely to be oversubscribed, given the enormity of need that has built up over time.

When asked whether Interior could guarantee that none of the new funding would go to developments related to pipeline projects opposed by indigenous tribes and communities due to either climate or treaty concerns, Interior officials said they were not immediately aware of any Interior funding designated for oil and gas projects.

But Klein acknowledged there are "very strong feelings" on that issue amongst stakeholders.

"An important part of the Biden administration's approach is to make sure that we are really getting input from folks, that we are engaged in meaningful tribal consultation, that we understand how folks view our investments and the best use of these dollars," Klein said.

"And so, this will all be part of the approach as we start to efficiently and effectively roll out these investments that the BID provides," she said.