Biden marks Earth Day by going after GOP, announcing $7 billion in federal solar power grants

President Joe Biden speaks at Prince William Forest Park on Earth Day, Monday, April 22, 2024, in Triangle, Va. Biden is announcing $7 billion in federal grants to provide residential solar projects serving low- and middle-income communities and expanding his American Climate Corps green jobs training program. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
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By ALEXA ST. JOHN and WILL WEISSERT

Associated Press

TRIANGLE, Virginia (AP) — President Joe Biden marked Earth Day by announcing $7 billion in federal grants for residential solar projects serving 900,000-plus households in low- and middle-income communities — while criticizing Republicans who want to gut his policies to address climate change.

The Democrat seeking reelection this year took aim at the supporters of former President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement.

“My MAGA Republican friends don’t seem to think it’s a crisis,” Biden said Monday at the Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia. “They actually want to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, which provides the funding for the vast majority of these projects, and roll back protections for clean air and clean water.”

The Biden administration also announced plans to expand its New Deal-style American Climate Corps green jobs training program.

The solar grants are being awarded by the Environmental Protection Agency, which unveiled the 60 recipients on Monday. The projects are expected to eventually reduce emissions by the equivalent of 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and save households $350 million annually, according to senior administration officials.

Biden’s latest environmental announcements come as he is working to energize young voters for his reelection campaign. Young people were a key part of a broad but potentially fragile coalition that helped him defeat then-President Trump in 2020. Some have joined protests around the country of the administration’s handling of Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Senior administration officials said young Americans are keenly invested in the Biden climate agenda and want to help enact it. The Climate Corps initiative is a way, the officials said.

Solar energy is gaining traction as a key renewable energy source that could reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels, which emit planet-warming greenhouse gases. Not only is it clean, but solar energy can also boost the reliability of the electric grid.

But solar energy can have high costs for initial installation, making it inaccessible for many Americans — and potentially meaning a mingling of environmental policy with election-year politics.

Forty-nine of the new grants are state-level awards, six serve Native American tribes and five are multi-state awards. They can be used for investments such as rooftop solar and community solar gardens.

Biden made the announcement about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southwest Washington at Virginia’s Prince William Forest Park. The park was established in 1936 as a summer camp for underprivileged youth from Washington, part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps to help create jobs during the Great Depression.

“Broad community-based solar is our brightest hope for protecting people and our climate from the scourge of fossil fuels,” said Jean Su, director of the Energy Justice program at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These targeted investments mean low-income families get clean energy that is affordable, resilient and protects our ecosystems. It’s great to see President Biden jumpstart this landmark program.”

Biden used executive action last year to create the American Climate Corps modeled on Roosevelt’s New Deal. He announced Monday that nearly 2,000 corps positions are being offered across 36 states, including jobs offered in partnership with the North American Building Trades Unions.

The president has often used Earth Day as a backdrop to further his administration’s climate initiatives. Last year, he signed an executive order creating the White House Office of Environmental Justice, meant to help ensure that poverty, race and ethnic status do not lead to worse exposure to pollution and environmental harm.

He has tried to draw a contrast with GOP congressional leaders, who have called for less regulation of oil production to lower energy prices. Biden officials counter that GOP policies benefit highly profitable oil companies and could ultimately undermine U.S. efforts to compete with the Chinese in the renewable energy sector.

The new awards came from the Solar for All program, part of the $27 billion “green bank” created as part of a sweeping climate law passed in 2022. The bank is intended to reduce climate and air pollution and send money to neighborhoods most in need, especially disadvantaged and low-income communities disproportionately affected by climate change.

EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe said she was “looking forward to these funds getting out into the community, giving people skills, putting them to work in their local communities, and allowing people to save on their energy bills so that they can put those dollars to other needs.”

Among those receiving grants are state projects to provide solar-equipped roofs for homes, college residences and residential-serving community solar projects in West Virginia, a non-profit operating Mississippi solar lease program and solar workforce training initiatives in South Carolina.

The taxpayer-funded green bank has faced Republican opposition and concerns over accountability for how the money gets used. EPA previously disbursed the other $20 billion of the bank’s funds to nonprofits and community development banks for clean energy projects such as residential heat pumps, additional energy-efficient home improvements and larger-scale projects like electric vehicle charging stations and community cooling centers.