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Why Progressive Climate Activists Are Frustrated With The Biden Administration


Combating climate change has been at the center of President Biden's infrastructure agenda. Now the president is selling a bipartisan infrastructure agreement without major climate goals. As NPR's Scott Detrow reports, the White House is trying to keep a lot of different coalitions happy in this process but is regularly making some people mad.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Last week, Republicans were frustrated with the Biden administration. Now it's progressive climate activists. On Monday, the White House found itself being protested by allies.


DETROW: The Sunrise Movement is a high-profile climate advocacy group made up mostly of young people. It's worked with the White House on policy, yet there were members holding signs calling Biden, quote, "a coward." That's because so many of the climate proposals Biden first pushed for in his infrastructure plan got stripped down or cut out of the bipartisan agreement reached last week. John Paul Mejia, an 18-year-old from Miami, is a Sunrise spokesman.


JOHN PAUL MEJIA: When the next climate disaster hits, the next wildfire comes or the next hurricane comes, it won't be bipartisanship that saves us all. It'll be a historic investment of $10 trillion in all of our communities that will keep us resilient.

DETROW: Across the street, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had a different view.


JEN PSAKI: I would dispute the notion that it doesn't do anything for a climate, which some are arguing.

DETROW: Psaki pointed to money spurring electric vehicle and school bus purchases and money for a half million electric vehicle charging stations. The White House also flagged funding to find and cap abandoned oil and gas wells, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.


PSAKI: This is a down payment, and the president will continue to advocate for, press for, work for even more on the climate as he will in the reconciliation bill and process, moving forward.

DETROW: But with record heat waves, wildfires and hurricane season starting to seem like the norm, many climate advocates say they're tired of down payments. Tiernan Sittenfeld, the League of Conservation Voters' vice president for government affairs, is urging the White House and Democratic lawmakers to make sure all of Biden's big climate promises are in that reconciliation bill, which Senate rules would allow to pass with just Democratic votes.

TIERNAN SITTENFELD: A robust clean energy standard. Ten-year clean energy tax credits for things like wind, solar, appliances. A major ramp-up of electrification all across this country.

DETROW: Other key Biden promises missing from the bipartisan infrastructure bill - money for a new civilian climate corps to work on environmental projects across the country, incentives to speed up better energy efficiency in buildings, and firm plans to funnel projects and funding to historically disadvantaged and polluted areas of the U.S. All that and more would put the measure in the trillions, but Mejia and other young activists say the cost is worth it to keep the climate from getting worse.


MEJIA: There should be no compromises, no excuses. We have a Democratic rule right now in D.C., and we should be using that.

DETROW: A new poll commissioned by the League of Conservation Voters and Climate Power shows younger voters and Biden voters who sat out earlier elections are more likely to be energized to show up and vote next year by big spending on climate, compared to whether or not bills are passed on bipartisan measures. But the challenge the White House is dealing with - that Democratic control is tenuous, just a handful of seats in the House and an even split in the Senate.

Another environmental advocate put the state of play this way. For all the debate and negotiations that have happened this year, the people pushing for new climate policies feel like they're in the same place as March, urging the White House and Congress to take Biden's ambitious proposals and put them into an actual piece of legislation. Scott Detrow, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.