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Washington Watch: Biden and ‘Buy Clean’ task force will tap infrastructure funds to cut emissions from steel, aluminum and concrete

The Biden-Harris 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, as it is currently responsible for nearly a third of domestic greenhouse gas emissions.

The spending detailed on Tuesday pushes for low-carbon production of the steel and aluminum the U.S. will need for electric vehicles
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wind turbines, and solar panels, and for the “clean” concrete that will go to upgrade transportation infrastructure.

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. And targeting industrials will be vital to meeting the U.S. goal of cutting carbon pollution nationwide from all key sources by at least 50% by 2030, proponents of the plan say.

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, putting, on average, 14% of the companies’ potential value at risk.

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
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use and industry. That’s more than the entire emissions of India, CDP says.

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.”

“Using federal procurement to build markets for cleaner industrial materials, trade policy, and economic development, the White House shows it’s committed to a holistic industrial policy for the future,” Stashwick said.

The proposal includes money for new guidance around carbon capture, utilization and sequestration (CCUS), including job creation in this segment. It’s a feature of Biden’s broad climate plan that tends to keep Republicans at the negotiating table and is pushed by the oil and gas industry as key to keeping a diverse energy mix. Some environmental groups worry it greenlights the continued burning of fossil fuels, with changing behavior which will slow the transition to renewable energy.

In addition, the Biden team detailed the following plans:

Hydrogen: The Department of Energy will receive $8 billion for regional clean hydrogen hubs; $1 billion for a clean hydrogen electrolysis program to reduce costs
of hydrogen produced from clean electricity; and $500 million for clean
hydrogen manufacturing and recycling Initiatives to support equipment
manufacturing and domestic supply chains.

Federal buying power: The Council on Environmental Quality and White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy are establishing the first-ever Buy Clean Task Force, which will harness the federal government’s massive purchasing power to support low-carbon materials made in American factories. The General Services
Administration and the Department of Transportation are also announcing new
efforts to promote use of low-carbon materials in construction projects, and the State Department and U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate are securing corporate purchasing commitments for low-carbon materials and technologies through the First Movers Coalition.

Aligning trade policies: The administration is advancing carbon-based trade policies to reward American manufacturers of clean steel and aluminum. Working with the
European Union, the administration is taking steps to align global trade with climate goals, which will keep out “dirty” products and result in more jobs and lower prices for Americans.

Diverse stakeholders: To equitably advance innovation across the entire sector, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is launching a new Initiative for Interdisciplinary Industrial Decarbonization Research with a focus on
benefitting American workers and communities. The Department of Energy is
working to establish the Industrial Technology Innovation Advisory
Committee (ITIAC) to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders charged
with creating a comprehensive strategy to lower the carbon footprint of America’s
industrial base.

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