‘Big and bold’ infrastructure bill still fails to help states tackle climate change • Missouri Independent%
The U.S. Senate is set to pass a massive $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that would improve state transportation, power grids, water systems, and more .
This is a major increase in spending and a potential for creating jobs, yet it does not meet the administration’s objectives of combating climate change and reducing its effects in states.
The White House worked for months with a group of 10 senators from both parties to draft the 2,700-page bill, which includes a five-year license for highways and public transportation. The Biden administration has said it will create up to 2 million new jobs each year for the remainder of the decade.
The measure would also increase spending on electric vehicle charging stations, transit programs, passenger rail transportation and other programs to reduce fossil fuel emissions from transportation that contribute to climate change.
“This is the culmination of a lot of effort over the years to do something big and bold about infrastructure,” said Susan Howard, director of the transportation funding program at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, a group that advocates for state departments. transport.
“We are talking about a level of investment over the next five years that will be significant and will have a lasting impact. “
But critics who wanted to see a greater focus on President Joe Biden’s stated goals of advancing climate action and equity for underprivileged communities say spending is insufficient or even worsening progress towards those goals.
“If you think of this bill in historical context, we would say these are impressive investments,” said Kevin DeGood, an infrastructure specialist at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress.
“But if you think about it in relation to the scale of the challenge we face, first and foremost around climate but also fairness and things like that, we would say that is insufficient.”
Money for highways and bridges
The bill would re-authorize surface transportation programs for five years, which is normally a major achievement in itself, Howard said.
It would provide $ 351 billion over five years to fund roads and bridges, an increase of almost 50% from current levels.
It also includes $ 107 billion for public transit, a 65% increase, according to an analysis by Jeff Davis, a senior researcher at the non-partisan Eno Center for Transportation.
The bill also includes $ 7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations, the first such federal effort. It would provide $ 2.5 billion to transit agencies and school districts for electric buses and ferries.
It is reportedly spending $ 66 billion on passenger rail transport, which the administration has called “the largest investment in passenger rail transport since Amtrak was created 50 years ago.”
While these and other provisions are aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, mitigating the effects of climate change, and reconnecting communities displaced by previous transport projects, spending on these programs is eclipsed by funds intended freeways, said Beth Osborne, director of Washington Think. tank Transportation for America which advocates safer transportation systems and more efficient spending.
The transportation sector is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which estimated that 29% of U.S. emissions in 2019 came from transportation.
“We’re going to do things to reduce climate emissions, but we’re going to spend more in order to increase them,” Osborne said.
The White House’s first infrastructure proposal, presented in April, stated that “Every dollar spent to rebuild our infrastructure during the Biden administration will be used to prevent, reduce and withstand the impacts of the climate crisis.”
But the hundreds of billions in spending on new highways sends another message, DeGood said, saying highways were similar to pipelines in encouraging the use of fossil fuels.
“A pipeline is a carbon production infrastructure,” DeGood said. “A highway is a carbon consuming infrastructure.
Democrats in the Senate, including Thomas E. Carper of Delaware, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee responsible for authorizing highways, admitted the bill did not sufficiently address climate change.
In a statement, Democratic Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Carper called for more climate action in the next major item the Senate plans to consider – a budget reconciliation bill that likely won’t get any Republican votes.
“The climate crisis demands bold action, and although the bipartisan infrastructure bill currently before the Senate is a first step, on its own, the bill does not go far enough to restore and protect the communities most. vulnerable on the front lines of this crisis, ”they said. “As the Senate prepares to consider reconciliation legislation… it is imperative that our investments directly benefit underserved communities. “
Reduce the risk of forest fires
As wildfires swept through the west and caused hazy skies across the country this summer, supporters of the bill highlighted provisions designed to fight the fires.
“This historic, bipartisan infrastructure package ensures that the Forest Service and Interior have the resources they need not only to fight fires, but also to prepare communities and landscapes for the next fire before it hits. to happen, ”said US Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana. in a Wednesday statement.
The bill includes $ 3.37 billion to reduce the risk of wildfire, according to a statement from Tester. The Senate also approved a Sens amendment. Michael Bennet, (D-Colo.), And John Hoeven, (RN.D.), wrote that would double funding for a program to improve resilience on public and private lands.
“This is clearly investing a lot of money in the problem and that’s a good thing,” said Susan Jane Brown, senior counsel for the conservation group Western Environmental Law Center.
“Just throwing money at a problem doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, but what we know about the Forest Service and [the Bureau of Land Management] in particular, when it comes to forest fire resilience, they have been underfunded for years by Congress. “
On the flip side, the bill includes forest management policy changes that are giving environmentalists “heartburn,” Brown said.
For example, the bill would allow the forest service to cut down trees to create firebreaks, but this opens up the possibility that breaks are poorly managed and provide fertile ground for flammable undergrowth that initiates and spreads many. fires.
What about the House bill?
The momentum of the Senate bill raises questions about the five-year, $ 715 billion transportation bill that the House passed last month, which included $ 5.7 billion in funding for hundreds of specific projects sponsored by lawmakers and highly desired by states, counties and cities.
Postings were included after a lengthy process of submissions by House members, the first time in years that postings were allowed in legislation.
State transportation departments prefer the Senate version because it gives them more flexibility in spending federal funds, Howard said.
But Osborne said the House bill was “better in every way”, including restricting that flexibility. The House bill, for example, includes a provision that requires states to improve roads that must be repaired before building new ones.