The climate agreement has a big blind spot: bicycles

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Wind turbines. Solar panels. Electric cars, nuclear reactors, geothermal energy.

The $369 billion climate package unveiled by Democrats last week is packed with subsidies for technologies to curb pollution that is warming the planet. But there’s one popular, emissions-free machine that’s conspicuously missing from what might be the country’s most important climate legislation yet: the bicycle.

Provisions to boost the sale and use of traditional bicycles and the battery-powered variety were removed from the climate accord reached by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) and Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), the most conservative Democrat in the Senate. The absence grinds the gears of bike manufacturers and cycling enthusiasts who have been pushing for months to include pro-cycling provisions in the Democrats’ climate package.

“We need people to not just switch from gasoline cars to electric cars. We need people to give up cars, period,” said David Zipper, a visiting scholar at the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at Harvard Kennedy School, which focuses on urban development. “We can do that. But there’s nothing in this bill that makes that process any easier or faster or more likely to happen.

A tax credit worth up to $900 has been removed from the agreement to help cyclists purchase e-bikes. There is no longer a pre-tax benefit for commuters to help cover the cost of cycling to work. Versions of both benefits were included in the roughly $2 trillion spending package that passed the House last year.

The proposed commuter benefit for cyclists, which Republicans repealed in 2017, would be similar to a benefit many employees already get for taking a car or subway to work.

“I’m surprised it didn’t make the cut because it seems so logical,” said Caron Whitaker, deputy executive director of the League of American Bicyclists, a cycling advocacy group.

Sam Runyon, spokesman for Manchin, declined to comment.

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The transport sector overtakes power plants as the country’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The Biden administration’s big bet to reduce those emissions is to switch drivers from gas-powered cars to electric vehicles.

But bike advocates say bringing more commuters on two wheels not only makes the streets safer for pedestrians, but is also better for the environment. Electric cars and trucks need more energy than e-bikes to operate, and much of that electricity still comes from power plants burning fossil fuels. Cycling represents only a small fraction of trips, even though most car journeys are less than 10 km.

“We know that bicycles – and increasingly e-bikes and electric cargo bikes – have the unique ability to replace those short car trips,” said Noa Banayan, lobbyist for PeopleForBikes, a trade association representing bike manufacturers. bicycles. “We want to make this normal for ordinary Americans and accessible to low-income people as well.”

But it was hard for bike makers to match the weight of automakers, who fought to include a $7,500 tax credit for new electric vehicles on Manchin apprehensions in the climate and economic package, dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act. The agreement also includes a tax credit for used electric vehicles.

“It’s hard to underestimate the lobbying power of automakers,” Zipper said. “We make jokes about Big Bike, but the reality is that it’s a tiny lobbying force supporting bikes over what’s behind automobiles.”

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A bump in the road for bike supplies was the price. The federal government would owe $4.1 billion to subsidize the purchase of e-bikes, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, which prepares cost and revenue estimates on tax proposals.

But that estimate is not in line with manufacturers’ sales projections, Banayan said. “It’s just not quite in line with what we expect from the industry as a whole,” she said.

The Schumer-Manchin deal isn’t bad news for cyclists: The package includes about $3 billion in Department of Transportation grants to help states and local governments make neighborhoods safer for walking and riding. bike.

And many Americans are already pedaling to reduce their own carbon footprint. Many of these cyclists are happy to see Congress doing something – anything — on global warming, especially after a climate deal seemed dead earlier this summer.

“As a movement,” Whitaker said, “we really want to see this climate legislation pass.”

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