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Is Biden's Infrastructure Plan Too "Skinny?"

I can't believe it has taken this long, but the Biden administration has finally started firing the environmental saboteurs Trump placed on scientific advisory panels to represent the interests of Big Business (and the donor class) in policies involving public health and safety. Today Dino Grandoni reported for the Washinton Post that the EPA is firing over 40 of Trump's outside "experts" from two key panels, a move EPA administrator Michael Regan says "will help restore the role of science at the agency and reduce the heavy influence of industry over environmental regulations. Trump's appointees who are being removed from the Science Advisory Board (SAB) and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) helped the EPA craft regulations related to air pollution, fracking and other issues. Their positions often contradicted scientific consensus.

The Biden administration said the move is one of several to reestablish scientific integrity across the federal government after what it characterizes as a concerted effort under the previous president to sideline or interfere with research on climate change, the novel coronavirus and other issues.
“Resetting these two scientific advisory committees will ensure the agency receives the best possible scientific insight to support our work to protect human health and the environment,” Regan said in a statement.
Environmental advocates cheered the decision, saying that remaking the composition of the panels is necessary after the Trump administration illegally barred academics who received EPA grants from serving on them.
...The Trump administration ended up rescinding the restriction on grant recipients after being ordered to do so last year by a federal court. But it didn’t change any of its appointments after the ruling.
...For example, Louis Anthony “Tony” Cox, who was tapped by Pruitt in 2017 to lead the advisory panel on air pollution, is a consultant who has worked for several government agencies but also for the oil, chemical and health-care industries.
Cox dismissed the EPA’s methods for tabulating the public health benefits of smog regulations as “unreliable, logically unsound, and inappropriate.” His position distressed many air pollution scientists, and two published a paper in the journal Science that warned Cox was trying to undo “the time-tested and scientifically backed” process that resulted in important public health protections.
The EPA is calling for new applications for the two panels. Nick Conger, an EPA spokesman, said advisers dropped from the committees are “eligible and encouraged to reapply” if they choose. Normally, the agency would have asked for new applications for a handful of the positions in October.
The action Wednesday is one of several steps Regan says is necessary to rebuild the scientific integrity of the EPA and restore staff morale.
Regan recently, for instance, revived an EPA webpage on climate change deleted during Trump’s first weeks in office. And In a memo to staff last week, Regan said the agency is reviewing policies that impeded science and is encouraging career employees to “bring any items of concern” to the attention of scientific integrity officials as they review Trump-era actions.
“When politics drives science rather than science informing policy,” Regan wrote to staff, “we are more likely to make policy choices that sacrifice the health of the most vulnerable among us.”
On the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, Trump-picked members advised the EPA to keep the standards for ozone at the current level, even as public-health experts outside the agency argued they should be tightened to help protect poor and minority communities. The agency followed the committee’s advice and declined to issue stricter standards for the smog-forming pollutant, which has been linked to asthma and lung disease.
The clean air panel, meanwhile, was split on whether to recommend tougher rules for particulate matter, another pollutant emitted by power plants and cars. The agency ultimately decided last year against ratcheting up the rules, even as evidence accumulated that soot raised the risk of dying of covid-19.
In an interview earlier this month, Regan suggested the agency may revisit those decisions for acceptable pollution levels. “We want to take a close look at ozone. We want to take a look at all the NAAQS [National Ambient Air Quality Standards] that we believe are questionable.”

The new poll from Morning Consult for Politico, released this morning, show Biden's job approval rating holding steady at 58% approve, 39% disapprove. when asked whether or not voters approved of how Biden is handling Climate Change and, separately, the environment, his approval was 50% approval.33% disapprove on Climate and 52% approve/33% disapprove on the environment.

The poll moved on to another topic and that's exactly where we're going. People were asked "As you may know, the Biden administration is putting together a $3 trillion infrastructure plan to address a variety of priorities. This plan is expected to include tax increases for those making more than $400,000, as well as increases to the corporate tax rate in order to balance spending. Which of the following comes closest to your opinion?" Results:

  • I support making improvements to America’s infrastructure funded by tax increases for those making more than $400,000, as well as increases to the corporate tax rate, to make these improvements happen- 54%

  • I support making improvements to America’s infrastructure, but only if these improvements can be funded without tax increases for those making more than $400k and increases to the corporate tax rate- 27%

  • I do not support making improvements to America’s infrastructure- 6%

  • I'm too dumb to have an opinion- 13%

And which parts of Biden's plan are people most excited about? These were the approval/disapproval numbers for each:

  • Conversion of transportation sector to run on electric power-- 52%/39%

  • Research on climate change- 63%/26%

  • Widespread availability of electric-vehicle charging stations-- 59%/27%

  • Increased housing options for low-income Americans-- 70%/20%

  • Universal Pre-K-- 60%/33%

  • Free community college-- 60%/33%

  • Reduced tuition at historically Black colleges and universities-- 48%/40%

  • Free tuition at historically Black colleges and universities-- 38%/49%

  • Extension of the child tax credit expansion-- 62%/24%

  • Extension of Affordable Care Act subsidies-- 59%/28%

Generally speaking, congressional Democrats applauded Biden's announcement and Republicans razzed it. McConnell called it "a Trojan horse," presumably to socialism!!! Minority whip Steve Scalise tweeted that Biden's bill is a radical Green New Deal proposal that raises taxes, increases debt, bans right to work laws, kills energy jobs and mandates Green New Deal provisions. Republicans are not just opposed to the bill, they're opposed to anything to do with bipartisanship.

USA Today reported that "Republicans argue the package should be limited to transportation, broadband internet and other basics, not green energy like Biden has touted since he was a candidate. Biden doesn't want to just fix roads, Republicans warn, he wants to upend American life... They've also balked at raising taxes-- long a sticking point for Republicans to get behind big-ticket Democratic programs. To find bipartisan support, the president will have to convince skeptical Republicans to support an increase of the corporate tax rate to pay for infrastructure and a wide-range of other spending...Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) the leading Republican on the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, said she's 'very disappointed' the plan could include social programs in addition to infrastructure. 'They're terming it social infrastructure. Never heard that before,' Capito said, predicting a hard legislative fight. 'I think we need to talk to the American people and say, Is this what you envision with infrastructure? Are these job creators? Are we re-engineering our own social fabric here with a 50-vote majority?"

Progressives are generally more positive-- although many who I spoke to see his proposal as a first step and say it needs to be bigger.

Chicagoland Democrat Marie Newman agreed that "for decades, our nation has put modernizing our infrastructure and transportation systems on the back burner, resulting in incomplete infrastructure projects, broken roads, eliminated bus routes, and transportation deserts in far too many communities across the country" and that Biden's plan is "a once-in-a-century capital investment to put our country on the right track to build back our roads and local transportation systems so we can make them more affordable, accessible and reliable than ever before." At the same time, she noted that she ;looks forward "to working with the Biden administration and my colleagues in Congress to build on this plan to further ensure the residents of Illinois' 3rd Congressional District have the high-quality, reliable transit systems and infrastructure they deserve. That means investing in green, clean infrastructure projects and energy-efficient transportation that will create new, sustainable union jobs and reduce our dependence on unsustainable means of production."

Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called the case Biden made today "compelling" and said "We applaud his vision of government as a force for good in this country and agree that bold investments in good-paying union jobs, climate action, and caregiving are essential to uplifting families and building back better. She continued though that "While President Biden’s proposal is a welcome first step, more must be done to improve on this initial framework to meet the challenges we face. We are still emerging from a deadly pandemic that has killed half a million Americans and plunged millions more into poverty, joblessness, and food insecurity. It is imperative that we act on a once-in-a-generation opportunity to use our governing majorities and build on the success of the landmark $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to enact the transformational policies that we were voted into office to deliver. To that end, we believe this package can and should be substantially larger in size and scope. During his campaign, President Biden committed to a ‘$2 trillion accelerated investment’ over four years on climate-focused infrastructure alone, which would set America on ‘an irreversible course to meet the ambitious climate progress that science demands.’ Today’s proposal, which includes many other priorities such as care jobs, will invest half that amount-- roughly $2 trillion over eight years-- or 1 percent of GDP. Given the President’s fierce resolve in passing the overwhelmingly popular American Rescue Plan earlier this month, it makes little sense to narrow his previous ambition on infrastructure or compromise with the physical realities of climate change." She explained why some people see today's proposal as a "skinny bill."

While we understand there is a separate package to be released on broader care economy supports, health care, and free college, our preference is for a single, ambitious package that would include both physical infrastructure and care infrastructure-- these investments go hand-in-hand, and we need both to restore our economy and empower families. People-- especially women and people of color who have suffered disproportionate job losses during this recession-- can’t get back to work without child care, or long-term care, or investments in education and job retraining. This human infrastructure cannot be secondary to the physical infrastructure needs we have as a country. We have a limited window to get this done-- we must seize our chance to build back better with economy-wide investments that work for working families and communities of color.
We believe that our country is ready for an even bolder, more comprehensive and integrated plan that demonstrates the size, scope, and speed required to aggressively slash carbon pollution and avoid climate catastrophe; create millions of good, family-sustaining, union jobs; improve Americans’ health and safety; reduce racial and gender disparities; and curb income inequality by making the wealthy and large corporations finally pay their fair share in taxes. The Progressive Caucus looks forward to engaging with the White House and Congressional leadership to make all the economic and social investments that we need-- with or without Republican votes-- and before Congress leaves for August recess. We must act urgently to develop and pass a package that rises to the unprecedented challenges we face as a country.
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