On March 31st, President Biden unveiled a massive $2 trillion infrastructure and clean energy plan called the American Jobs Plan that aims, in part, to tackle what the White House calls two of the greatest challenges of our time: the climate crisis and competition with China.  Among the proposed investments, the American Jobs Plan calls for funding for the development of advanced nuclear reactors and for a clean electricity standard that can potentially support operating plants. Other provisions of the plan include clean energy tax credits, investments for upgrades to the electric grid, and plans to clean up abandoned mines and cap orphan oil and gas wells. In line with his focus on environmental justice, President Biden asks that 40% of the benefits from investment in clean energy go to disadvantaged communities.

Along with the American Jobs Plan, President Biden is releasing a Made in America Tax Plan to increase corporate tax payments, which are intended to pay for the American jobs plan.

Shortly after the American Jobs Plan was announced, White House National Climate Advisor and former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters that nuclear energy should be one of the power sources eligible for a national clean energy mandate sought by the White House as part of its infrastructure and clean energy plan.

Based on an initial review, provisions in the American Jobs Plan that impact the advanced nuclear industry include the following:

  • President Biden proposes a 10-year extension and phase down of investment tax credits and production tax credits for clean energy storage and generation. The Administration will also support private investment and state and local programs like “clean energy block grants” that provide grant money to help reduce fossil fuel emissions. It also plans on making federal buildings run on clean power 100% of the time and aims to establish an Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy Standard to cut electricity bills and pollution. In doing so it will incentivize use of “carbon pollution-free energy” like nuclear.
  • The American Jobs Plan calls on Congress to invest $35 billion in a “full range” of technological solutions to address climate change. Of the $35 billion requested, $15 billion would go to demonstration projects for climate R&D priorities, which include advanced nuclear and rare earth element recovery technologies. In February 2021, President Biden established a new Climate Innovation Working Group as part of the National Climate Task Force, to advance his commitment to launching an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate (ARPA-C). The working group will help coordinate and strengthen federal government-wide efforts to foster affordable, innovative technologies that can help America achieve the President’s goal of net zero economy-wide emissions by 2050. It will also protect the American people from the impacts of droughts and floods, larger and more frequent wildfires, and stronger hurricanes. ARPA-C would help “develop new methods for reducing emissions and building climate resilience, as well as expanding across-the-board funding for climate research.”
  • The plan proposes to utilize the federal government’s purchasing power (currently measured at over a half trillion dollars) for clean energy production and supporting “high quality jobs.” To reach the net-zero emissions goal, Congress is asked to enable manufacture of critical technologies like advanced nuclear reactors and fuel. The plan calls for an investment by Congress of $46 billion in federal purchasing power to meet these goals.
  • The plan calls for job training in clean energy and other high demand sectors as part of a $40 billion Dislocated Workers Program and other training programs. The Dislocated Workers Program aims to provide support for Americans who lost their jobs “through no fault of their own.” This program may apply to those that lose their jobs in the energy transition, but only time will tell as additional details of the plan are revealed. Moreover, the plan proposes that underserved communities (presumably communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities) will be prioritized for new clean energy jobs.

What’s next?

The American Jobs Plan has already grabbed the attention and backing of organizations that support the use of nuclear power for clean energy, with the Nuclear Innovation Alliance issuing a statement of support as the plan “incorporates advanced nuclear energy as eligible for funding for demonstration projects, building on ongoing activities by the Department of Energy and industry to demonstrate the commercial viability of next generation nuclear power.” The Atlantic Council also applauded the plan, remarking that increased R&D funding “will develop and demonstrate technologies, such as . . . advanced nuclear innovation” which will “help maintain US global leadership.” In another statement of support, the American Nuclear Society highlighted that “a growing world market for small modular and advanced reactor designs promise[s] job growth for communities across the U.S.” The plan was lauded as the “most ambitious climate and clean energy plan undertaken by any US administration” by the think tank Third Way.

However, for the plan to come to fruition, the President will need the support of Congress, and the plan is already experiencing some backlash from both sides of the political aisle. Republicans do not generally support the tax increases, and Democrats argue that the plan falls short of expectations. While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) supports the plan, Democrats hold a razor-thin majority in Congress and not all Congressional Democrats appear to support the plan (the parties are tied in the Senate with the Vice President casting the tie-breaking vote, and Democrats hold only a seven-person majority in the House). For example, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has criticized the plan for not going far enough. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) admitted that even if the plan could help support Kentucky infrastructure, he would still vote against it due to its method of funding.

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