Mar 7 • 51M

Volts podcast: Erin Mayfield on the massive consequences of Build Back Better

The infrastructure bill is almost nothing; BBB is almost enough.

David Roberts
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Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)
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So the Build Back Better Act, about which I have written and talked quite a bit here on Volts, is dead — apparently dead as a doornail. Late last year, our beloved West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin basically drew a red line and said he would not pass the bill in its current form. He issued a bunch of demands and restrictions; the other Democrats were thrown into chaos.

Now, a lot of other stuff has distracted attention from the BBB, including the ongoing pandemic, the ongoing right-wing assault on democracy, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It seems that the neglected BBB is drifting further and further away from our political consciousness.

That is a very bad thing, because the climate provisions of BBB represent not only Democrats’ final chance to take substantial action on climate at the federal level, but also a genuinely good climate bill. What's more, Manchin has expressed openness to the climate portions of the bill; he recently came out with a sort of counter offer to his fellow Dems, an extremely stripped-back version of the bill that would include some raising of taxes on rich people and some reducing of prescription drug prices, the revenue of which would go to climate spending — basically, a revenue and climate bill.

No one's quite sure what he wants to see in that climate part. But he has previously expressed openness to the climate provisions of BBB as they now exist. So somebody needs to get on that.

Erin Mayfield

To illustrate the point — just what an impactful decision, what a big deal this is — a new round of modeling has recently been issued by the Zero Lab at Princeton, specifically by its REPEAT project — the Rapid Energy Policy Evaluation and Analysis Toolkit — which they have set up to do rapid modeling on legislation that is currently being discussed, to reduce the lag between legislation and modeling.

What the REPEAT project has done is model a net-zero pathway, but also model the bipartisan infrastructure bill, what it would do, what it would accomplish in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and energy spending, and then what BBB would do and accomplish in terms of greenhouse gases and energy spending. And they issued a report.

One of the lead authors on the report is Erin Mayfield, a professor of engineering at Dartmouth who specializes in energy systems and energy modeling. I thought I would have Mayfield on to talk about her modeling of the bill, why the bill would have the effects it has, and how it compares to a world where only the bipartisan infrastructure bill has passed. I'm excited to talk to her, not only about the technical details of the report, but some of the political implications — what it means for inflation, what it means for the debt, what it means for jobs, and what, if anything, it has to do with the war in Ukraine.