Few in the political arena could forget the debate over the definition of infrastructure this summer. While it made for good Twitter comedy, Democrats in Congress took “everything is infrastructure” a bit too seriously.
The reconciliation package, once priced at $3.5 trillion and now being negotiated to a lower, yet still nauseating number, has been framed as our last chance to act on climate change. Simultaneously, it’s dubbed a “social spending” measure by the Biden administration with provisions for child care, school lunches and prioritization of union jobs.
Both infrastructure and climate should be priorities for both Congress and this administration. The bipartisan infrastructure bill includes many important provisions from natural resilience to incentives for research and development of key energy technologies. The trouble comes, however, when these priorities are muddied by dozens of other priorities thrown in the same bucket, as they are in the budget reconciliation bill.
If elected officials try to accomplish everything with one bill, we the people actually get shortchanged. We’re seeing this in Congress right now. Two factions of the Democratic Party are at an impasse on the priorities in the bill, and if they were to take more targeted approaches to issues instead of lumping every priority into one mammoth piece of legislation, the success rate would be undoubtedly higher.
In addition, this brand of top-down approach alienates conservative folks in rural areas who are some of the first to feel the brunt of climate change temperature increases and extreme weather, but tend to be more skeptical of government intervention. A study from Duke suggests that climate denial is not necessarily rejection of science, but an aversion to the climate solutions being presented. With this in mind, packing a slew of unrelated provisions into an infrastructure plan branded as climate action will turn more folks away from the conversation as a whole.
Unfortunately, this approach isn’t unique to the Biden administration, and making all issues climate issues has been a theme of progressive and leftist environmental organizations in recent years. For example, The Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters include legislators’ votes on abortion and immigration on their environmental scorecards. Likewise, The Sunrise Movement has publicly branded abortion as a climate issue.
The fact is that our desire to act on climate change in a pragmatic way should be, at its core, nonpartisan. When every issue facing our nation, however, is thought to be a climate issue, it creates unnecessary divisions and delays real sustainable action on an issue that we all must share: a healthier environment.
Benji Backer is the president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition. He is a Deseret News contributor.