Infrastructure bill delivers on key environmental priorities

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Monday, President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, bipartisan (IIJA) legislation that will invest more than $1.2 trillion in the engineered systems that the U.S. economy is built on. The Act is one of the biggest victories for clean water and clean transportation in Minnesota in recent history. While most of the dollars going to Minnesota will fund repair for roads and bridges, a significant portion will go toward investments that help us fix our pressing environmental challenges.

Transportation is Minnesota’s largest sector for carbon emissions, and the Infrastructure Act targets those emissions from multiple angles. Part of the solution is reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by providing alternatives to driving, most notably transit and bike/walk infrastructure. Minnesota transit systems will be able to access more than $800 million from this legislation over the next five years. That money can’t be used for operational costs, but it can be used to develop the infrastructure needed to ensure high-quality, convenient transit service that will make it easier for Minnesotans to avoid driving.

Minnesota is also on track to receive $68 million in electric vehicle charging investments – and possibly more in grant funding – from  IIJA. Closing the gaps in our existing charging network will be key to electrifying our remaining corridors, encouraging Minnesotans to replace fossil fueled vehicles with electric models. Electric vehicles have historically been criticized as a poor fit for Minnesota’s climate, but new technology, the Clean Cars standards, and an expanded charging network will help change the story. If Norway – a country similar in population but larger in size than Minnesota – has been able to transition to nearly 80% of its new vehicle sales now being electric, Minnesota can do it too. 

Finally, while not a direct investment in climate emissions reductions, the more than $100 million slated for broadband internet service in Minnesota can have positive environmental effects, allowing for more and better telecommuting and economic development not based on extractive industries like mining. For those reasons, MEP has supported broadband investments to close the internet access gap within Minnesota.

The story for protecting our water is a great success as well: the Infrastructure Act invests $680 million in upgrading Minnesota’s sewer and drinking water infrastructure to improve safety and protect our natural resouces. MEP’s work has shone a spotlight on the threat of lead poisoning from water pipes in cities like Duluth, and this funding can make real progress towards eliminating that problem.

While not a climate solution in itself, the Act’s $20 million for protection against extreme climate events like wildfires will form a key part of our response to the crisis, and an additional $3.5 million in weatherization will cut energy usage while making Minnesota housing more livable and resilient.

Now that the Infrastructure Act has passed, MEP and partners are hopeful that it will be followed by further much-needed investments in climate emissions reductions, such as those in the ambitious Build Back Better agenda. The 2020s are the critical decade for climate action, and the most responsible thing we can do as a nation is to go as big as we can on protecting our planet’s future.

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