The Biden administration is tapping funds secured in last year’s infrastructure bill to advance programs it argues can help reduce carbon emissions in the manufacture of widely-used materials such as steel, aluminum and concrete.
The industrial sector is central to tackling the climate crisis, many analysts agree, because it is responsible for nearly a third of domestic greenhouse gas emissions. And targeting industrials will be vital to meeting the U.S. goal of cutting carbon pollution nationwide by at least 50% by 2030, proponents of the plan say.
A new “Buy Clean” Task Force will be created to steer federal agencies to buy construction materials that are manufactured producing fewer emissions. This influx of demand is meant to push the private sector to have more readily and cheaper access to the same processes.
Bipartisan pleasers? Hydrogen and carbon capture
The Energy Department will spend $9.5 billion to encourage the commercial-scale development of clean hydrogen, a zero-carbon alternative, primarily instead of natural gas
that is currently expensive and not scalable. Hydrogen, particularly “green” hydrogen, and the “blue” hydrogen that includes natural gas in its mix, is a major pursuit of both the public and private sectors.
Further, the White House on Tuesday will issue new guidance on deploying technology for carbon capture, utilization and sequestration (CCUS), including job creation in this segment. Carbon capture is aimed at grabbing the pollution at the source of burning and storing it or reusing it.
Hydrogen and CCUS are particular features of Biden’s broad climate plan, and have had support from Republicans, as well as the oil and gas industry, which views it as as key to keeping a diverse energy mix. Some environmental groups worry their use will greenlight the continued burning of fossil fuels, without changing consumption, which they say will slow the transition to 100% renewable energy.
The plan calls for adding to categories to the First Movers Coalition, a collaboration first meant to reward tech companies pushing new environmental solutions, to cover aluminum, cement, chemicals and carbon removal.
Cleaning up wind, solar, EVs
The spending detailed on Tuesday highlights low-carbon production of the steel
the U.S. will need for electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar panels, and for the “clean” concrete that will upgrade transportation infrastructure. Cement is the source of about 8% of the world’s CO2 emissions, according to think tank Chatham House.
A 2019 report from climate-data firm CDP analyzing the world’s 20 largest steel companies found that the steel sector is failing to reduce emissions at the rate required to keep global warming below 2°C, the target set out in the Paris climate accord.
More than 90% of metal produced in the world is steel, and the steel sector is responsible for up to 9% of global greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel
use and industry. That’s more than the entire emissions of India, CDP says.
The White House team said emissions from the U.S. heavy-industrial sector must be reduced to protect communities — especially minority and economically underserved neighborhoods whose residential streets historically share close proximity to industrial zoning.
Trade also factored into White House plans. The administration is advancing carbon-based trade policies to reward American manufacturers of clean steel and aluminum, it said. A U.S.-EU alliance to stop “dirty” steel imports from China was hammered out as part of last fall’s G-20 meeting.
At least one environmental group welcomed Tuesday’s developments.
“Industrial materials like concrete, cement, steel and aluminum are both carbon-intensive to produce and foundational to modern life,” said Sasha Stashwick, an industrial decarbonization expert and senior advocate in the climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “As the global demand for them grows, the only way to meet our climate goals and protect communities —including those on the frontlines of industrial pollution — is to explore all avenues to clean up these industries.”
Biden’s additional climate change tools, in particular the billions of dollars in tax incentives to stimulate wind and solar energy and to smooth the adoption of EVs, is stalled in Congress with the Build Back Better bill. Biden has said he’ll consider separating climate initiatives from broader spending.
Tuesday’s announcement would be “complemented by the passage of key climate and energy provisions currently included in the proposed Build Back Better legislation, including an improved 45Q tax credit to support carbon capture projects and increased funding for zero-carbon fuels like hydrogen,” said Conrad Schneider, advocacy director at Clean Air Task Force.
Other speed bumps have emerged for Biden’s climate vision. Later this year, the Supreme Court might restrict the government’s ability to regulate emissions in the power sector, court handicappers indicate. And on Friday, a federal judge blocked the administration from using a measurement known as the “social cost of carbon” to calculate the impact of climate change in creating federal rules.