The U.S. House of Representatives passed a historic and bipartisan infrastructure bill this week. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill, which already cleared the Senate, into law. It represents a game-changing investment in the infrastructure in this country and is likely to create millions of jobs in the next ten years according to the Biden Administration. Politically, this will be seen as a victory for President Biden, but it is also a rare glimpse at what bipartisanship can look like. As a climate scientist, I think it is a victory for Earth and all of us who depend on it for survival.
For a comprehensive look at what is in the $1.2 trillion bill, I recommend this link. It highlights significant components that will address roads, bridges, airports, and waterways. There are also major investments related to improving power, water, and broadband systems. Herein, I provide a quick overview of what the bill means for climate change.
In one way, I already have. You may have notice how parts of the U.S. have recently suffered from power and water supply issues after extreme weather events such as Hurricane Ida or the Texas Cold Event. Any infrastructure bill that hardens our infrastructure for the new realities of climate change is good for everyone. However, infrastructure adaptation and resilience are not the only things in this bill relevant to climate change. There is quite a bit on the mitigation side of the house too.
From COP26 forward, the world understands that reduction of carbon emissions is the “smoking tailpipe” solution for slowing climate change. The bill contains $39 billion dollars to expand public transportation systems. It is a pretty simple proposition. If we can get people out of cars idling in traffic (I live in the Atlanta area so know this well) and onto public transportation, that is helpful in the emissions reduction calculus.
The bill will also help state and local governments transition to zero or low-emission buses and contains the largest investment in passenger rail service in 50 years. As a new electric vehicle owner, I was excited to see billions of dollars in funding to expand electric vehicle charging stations around the country. This bill contains $5 billion for school systems to purchase electric or hybrid school buses. Diesel-fuel school buses have long been a target of environmental stewards.
I mentioned electric grid resiliency earlier, but another aspect of the modernization is to support carbon capture technology. Part of the $65 billion funding allocated for grid modernization would also stimulate and accelerate the development of more climate-friendly electricity sources such as hydrogen.
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