Progressives Push Biden to Include $10 Trillion Climate Plan in Infrastructure Package

Green New Deal-esque proposal calls to 'reshape our society' through public investment

Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) promotes the THRIVE Agenda / Getty Images
March 31, 2021

Progressive lawmakers and environmental groups are pushing President Joe Biden to include costly aspects of the radical Green New Deal in his administration's upcoming infrastructure package.

Left-wing Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) introduced the THRIVE Agenda in February and urged the Biden administration to include the proposal in any future economic plan. Like the Green New Deal, the THRIVE Agenda contains idealistic climate goals—notably a carbon-free electric grid by 2035. It is also wildly expensive, calling for $10 trillion in public spending to achieve "real full employment" and "reshape our society" through government jobs—a proposal that would cost five times as much as Democrats' COVID relief plan.

Unlike the Green New Deal, however, the THRIVE Agenda comes at a time when the White House is friendly toward major environmental reform, and a group of 15 national climate organizations known as the Green New Deal Network is pressuring Biden to "incorporate the entirety of the THRIVE Agenda" into his infrastructure package.

The effort appears to be paying off. Biden is set to unveil the package's details on Wednesday, with the legislation expected to include record spending on climate change.

Biden did not back the Green New Deal during his campaign but used the legislation as a "crucial framework" for his own climate plan. One of his top climate officials, interior secretary Deb Haaland, introduced a version of the THRIVE Agenda as a congresswoman in September. And multiple White House climate office staffers worked closely with the same environmental groups hounding Biden to adopt the proposal.

For some environmental activists, though, it's not enough. University of Massachusetts Amherst economist Robert Pollin, who helped craft the THRIVE Agenda, told the Washington Post that the Biden package's $3 to $4 trillion price tag is "skirting on the edge of being inadequate" to meet progressives' climate goals.

The criticism may cause headaches for the Biden administration as it looks to pass the infrastructure package through Democrats' razor-thin congressional majorities. Biden could be forced to beef up the legislation's climate-related spending to appease his party's radical environmentalists. Such a move would undoubtedly alienate Republicans, who are already at odds with the package's high price tag and environmental focus. Rep. Sam Graves (R., Mo.) said Thursday that the package "needs to be a transportation bill, not a Green New Deal," and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has warned that Biden's proposal "may actually be a Trojan horse for massive tax hikes and other job-killing left-wing policies."

Heartland Institute president James Taylor accused Democrats of proposing "the same climate change extremism bill over and over again and naming it something different each time." He argued that the THRIVE Agenda's carbon-free electric grid objective is unfeasible and would only benefit China and other U.S. adversaries that refuse to adequately prioritize clean energy.

"Even [Biden climate envoy] John Kerry has said the United States could eliminate our emissions entirely, and it still wouldn't do any good if the rest of the world doesn't get on board," Taylor told the Washington Free Beacon. "On top of the economic costs and much higher energy prices, we're also going to have to bow down to China and their agenda, and that's a bad deal for the American people."

Neither the White House nor Markey returned a request for comment.

Markey pressed Biden to craft a "bold infrastructure plan that meets the scale of the intersecting crises we face" through the THRIVE Agenda shortly after reports detailing the package emerged Tuesday morning. Top climate groups such as the Sunrise Movement are backing the progressive's push. The organization on Monday urged Biden to "act on the climate mandate he was elected on and invest at least $1 trillion over the next decade" to combat climate change.

Biden benefited from nearly $5 million in contributions from the alternative energy sector in 2020, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The THRIVE Agenda would come as a massive boost to the industry given its reliance on public investment.

Biden also received more campaign cash from environmental groups than any other candidate. Climate Leaders for Biden raised more than $15 million for the Democrat, and the League of Conservation Voters touted investing $115 million to "defeat Trump and elect climate and environmental justice champions" in 2020.

Biden will release the details behind his infrastructure proposal during a trip to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. The White House is aiming to pass the legislation this summer, according to CNN.