Biden’s infrastructure proposal would be a boon for climate and drinking water

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, the Biden Administration released the American Jobs Plan, a $2 trillion national infrastructure proposal that would have enormous implications for the country’s environment and public health. Though it is first and foremost an economic development plan, it is also a climate plan, a clean water plan, and generally a lifeline for our environment.

While infrastructure is often described with the pithy phrase, “roads and bridges,” the plan recognizes that the basic systems we rely on constitute a much broader category. It includes the wires that deliver power and internet, the pipes that deliver drinking water, supply chains, housing, essential services and more. It’s a welcome paradigm shift away from one that too often focused on how we can mostly serve people in cars, not people in general. Simply repairing crumbling old systems won’t work anymore, and the Biden Administration’s plan correctly recognizes the need to think bigger.

The American Jobs Plan is expansive and covers a multitude of areas – here are some of the projects that would have major implications for our environment in Minnesota:

  • Transportation: The largest source of carbon emissions in Minnesota and in the United States, transportation is a tough nut to crack, as the preeminence of fossil fueled personal vehicles is deeply embedded in our systems and economy.

    The American Jobs plan addresses this from multiple angles. It invests heavily in public transit systems ($85 billion), Amtrak ($80 billion), and safe pedestrian and bike routes to provide clean transportation options that help reduce vehicle miles traveled. Lack of funding has been an obstacle for providers like MetroTransit, and this funding would help close gaps in service. It would also invest in electric chargers, targeting half a million built by 2030, as well as other incentives to make it easier to replace fossil fueled cars and trucks with zero-emission models.

    It would start the important work of replacing public vehicles, like school buses, with electric models, reducing carbon emissions and air pollution. And it would do away with land use policies that discourage clean transportation, such as mandatory parking minimums and harmful zoning restrictions.

  • Clean Water: The water systems around our country are as old and as harmful as many roads, and are in dire need of upgrades. Our work in Duluth on testing for lead in household drinking water has helped demonstrate the need to replace lead lines.

    The American Jobs Plan includes the most ambitious effort in history to eliminate lead in drinking water: it would replace all lead service lines in the nation and provide grants to states and communities to bring their water systems into the 21st century.

  • Clean Energy: While electricity is becoming less and less carbon intensive, especially in Minnesota, our power grid needs a big boost from the federal government. The plan would rejuvenate clean energy investment incentives to utilities, and spend $100 billion on making sure the power grid can handle it. Major utilities that serve Minnesota, like Xcel and Minnesota Power, have already set goals to bring 100% clean electricity within decades, and these investments could help move up the timeline.
  • Natural Spaces and Land Use: Reforestation, conservation and other land use tools are critical to helping soak up emissions and approach net-zero. The American Jobs Plan identifies these natural spaces as infrastructure worthy of investment, and would create a Civilian Climate Corps to conduct restoration work around the country. This would create shovel-ready jobs that would support real comebacks for nature, improving the health of people and wildlife. We’ve seen what good natural lands restoration can do in Minnesota through our Legacy Amendment and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative – the American Jobs Plan would bring even more of this support to Minnesota and the nation.

The American Jobs Plan may look different as it makes its way through Congress, but these project ideas represent the most significant environmental proposal from the U.S. Executive Branch in history. We hope to see Congress support this plan.

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