This kind of thinking is wrong. A window is opening for Biden to make good on such campaign promises as creating jobs, making the economy cleaner and more equitable, and confronting the threat of climate change. Already, a possible breakthrough on a next-step stimulus package is taking shape.
But to achieve his broader goals, Biden will need to shape his policies in a way that rallies the country and attracts bipartisan support. He can do so if he binds those three priorities tightly together.
It’s clear from the exit polls that, in addition to the urgent problem of covid-19, Americans want rapid progress on economic growth, racial justice and climate change. And though a closely divided Congress will no doubt see plenty of obstruction, those standoffs will be punctuated by moments of genuine negotiation — particularly on big bills such as covid relief, appropriations and transportation. Policies that create jobs and improve the health of people and the planet can attract enough bipartisan support to become law. Red and blue states alike have benefited from new jobs in electric vehicle manufacturing, advanced battery production and renewable energy. Everyone wants — and deserves — more of them.
Americans also strongly support Biden’s pledge to immediately rejoin the Paris climate agreement, ending our isolation as one of the few nations not a party to this global process. Biden’s appointment of former secretary of state John F. Kerry as his climate envoy signals that he’ll move aggressively in the international arena.
On the domestic front, incentives to build clean trucks, buses and cars and to generate clean energy are the right place to start because these measures will create jobs while also addressing problems such as asthma and heart disease due to air pollution, which disproportionately hurt communities of color.
Clean energy jobs and better health are closely linked. Black and Latino communities suffer from higher levels of pollution because of their proximity to key transportation and logistics hubs. Power plants, highways, ports, depots and distribution centers — where polluting diesel trucks rumble through day and night — are often located in those communities. A well-designed plan for cleaner transportation and power generation will reduce this burden on communities of color.
To get there, we must build a much bigger network of charging stations — expanding from roughly 68,000 around the United States last year to 500,000 by 2030. We must move from our fossil-fuel-dominated electricity system to one that is 100 percent clean by 2035. And we must transition to 100 percent zero-emission new trucks and buses by 2040 and 100 percent zero-emission new cars by 2035.
These goals are within our reach, in part because the market is finally realizing the public has made its choice. Major power companies in all regions of the country have already committed to moving to net zero climate pollution, so we know this industry can make real progress. And ratepayers are insisting on it. Auto companies and large truck manufacturers have signaled an industry shift toward electric vehicles, for example, Ford’s $11 billion investment in EVs, which includes $700 million to build the electric F-150 pickup in Dearborn, Mich. — where the company last year announced 3,000 new jobs. Again, buyers want those vehicles.
The market is already driving the rapid expansion of clean energy — in many parts of the country, solar and wind are now the cheapest forms of electricity — but without leadership from Washington, we won’t cut enough pollution to protect ourselves. Markets and policy must be aligned, because after decades of climate delay, we have no choice but to accelerate now. Well-designed government policies and investments — including health and environmental standards, infrastructure investments, government procurement and corrected market failures — can help create much greater demand for new technologies.
To create more jobs in manufacturing and infrastructure, we must rebuild better. We need to act quickly while addressing long-standing inequities. Cleaning up our vehicles and power plants, which produce most of our lethal climate and air pollution, is a pro-jobs, pro-health policy that both parties can support.