Democrats detail their $1.5T green infrastructure plan

Bonnie Cash

House Democrats on Monday released new details about their $1.5 trillion green infrastructure plan slated to come to a vote as early as next week.

The legislation, unveiled Thursday, would funnel hundreds of billions of dollars toward transportation and broadband, along with investments in schools and hospitals, with requirements to reduce emissions and clean up industry woven throughout the bill.

“This is the largest tax investment in combating climate change Congress has ever made,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said when the bill was first announced.

The legislation, much like House Democrats’ latest coronavirus stimulus package, may not be taken up in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has expressed resistance to addressing infrastructure through a pandemic relief measure. 

The bulk of the 2,300 page Moving Forward Act is geared toward transportation, a $500 billion tab that requires states to account for climate change before undertaking projects and meet certain greenhouse gas emission goals when they accept funding.

Beyond building new roads and bridges, the legislation commits significant funding for public transportation, favoring systems that have success reducing congestion and that expand access in low income neighborhoods. It would also shift funds to systems that offer more frequent service — a key metric for recruiting riders — rather than low operating costs.

Mixed in with grants for zero-emissions buses, electrifying the postal service fleet, and allowance of electronic driver’s licenses is funding for university research into implicit bias training for police officers to prevent racial profiling during traffic stops.

The transportation portion of the bill has already proven to be the most controversial, with Republicans arguing they were sidelined from crafting the policies. 

“We were not given the opportunity to address any of our priorities in this legislation,” Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the ranking member on the committee, said when the bill was first introduced, arguing it “will leave rural America even further behind, and numerous new green mandates and extreme progressive goals are woven throughout.”

Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has described the bill as “the application of the principles of the Green New Deal,” showing it is possible to deal with climate change and create jobs at the same time.

The $100 billion broadband portion, spearheaded by Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), dedicates the bulk of its funding — $80 billion — to bringing broadband access to rural and otherwise underserved areas.

Other grant funding would give money for wifi on school buses, expanding mobile hotspot access through schools and libraries, and funding digital equity programs to ensure people of diverse backgrounds have access to the internet.

The bill also contains a number of direct environmental measures, including efforts to boost electric vehicle charging stations across the country.

The legislation contains a number of tax credits for renewables — something long pushed for by both Democrats and green groups — as part of the $70 billion in spending on renewables.

An energy efficiency section of the bill sets aside money to retrofit schools and other large buildings while offering up weatherizing assistance for homeowners. It also sets aside money to cap abandoned oil and gas wells and establishes a grant program to reduce methane leaks from pipelines and drilling activity. 

Infrastructure bills have repeatedly failed to gain traction in Congress since the early days of the Trump administration.

The upper chamber has already pushed a highway bill through committee, and many members are interested in expanding broadband access.

While House Republicans have complained about their exclusion along with the bill’s green measures, Senate opposition might be more squarely focused on the price tag.

“Nothing we’re doing right now is fiscally responsible,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said last week after President Trump once again floated the idea of a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan.

Tags Donald Trump Fred Upton Infrastructure Mike Enzi Mitch McConnell Peter DeFazio Richard Neal Sam Graves
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