Incentives for cycling are missing in the climate agreement

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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 meant to curb planet-warming pollution. But there is one popular emission-free machine that is conspicuous by its absence in what could be the most important climate legislation in the country so far: the bicycle.

Provisions designed to encourage the sale and use of traditional bicycles and the battery-powered variety were removed from the climate agreement 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 is putting pressure in the gears of bike manufacturers and cycling enthusiasts who lobbied for months to include pro-bike provisions in Democrats’ climate package.

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

A tax credit worth up to $900 to help cyclists buy electric bikes was removed from the deal. Also gone is 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 the House passed 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The proposed commuter benefit for cyclists, which Republicans repealed in 2017, would be similar to a benefit many employees already get for taking a car or subway to work.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 that wasn’t included, because it seems so common sense,” said Caron Whitaker, deputy executive director of the League of American Bicyclists, a cycling advocacy group.

Sam Runyon, a spokesman for Manchin, declined to comment.

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The transportation sector surpasses power plants as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the country. The big bet of the Biden administration to reduce those emissions is to switch drivers from gasoline cars to electric vehicles.

But bike advocates say getting more people on two wheels not only makes streets safer for pedestrians, it’s also better for the environment. Electric cars and trucks need more energy than electric bikes to run, and much of that electricity still comes from power plants that burn fossil fuels. Cycling accounts for only a small fraction of daily trips, although most car trips are less than six miles long.

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

But it was hard for bikemakers to match the influence of automakers, which fought to include a $7,500 tax credit for new electric vehicles over Manchin’s misgivings in the climate and economic package, dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act. . The deal also includes a tax credit for used electric vehicles.

“It’s hard to underestimate the lobbying power that auto companies have,” Zipper said. “We make jokes about Big Bike, but the reality is that it is a minuscule lobbying force supporting bikes compared to what is behind cars.”

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

But that estimate is out of line with manufacturers’ sales projections, Banayan said. “That’s not entirely consistent with what we expect in the industry as a whole,” he said.

The Schumer-Manchin agreement isn’t just bad news for cyclists: The package includes about $3 billion in Department of Transportation grants to help state and local governments make neighborhoods safer to walk and ride. bike.

And many Americans are already pedaling to reduce their own carbon footprints. Many of those riders are happy to see Congress do something: anything – on global warming, especially after a climate deal seemed dead earlier this summer.

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

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