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The blueprint we need for a shovel-worthy infrastructure plan

The blueprint we need for a shovel-worthy infrastructure plan
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The election is over, but our nation remains sharply divided. No matter what happens in the Georgia Senate runoffs to determine the ultimate makeup of the new Senate, division will remain. 

More than 80 million people and counting voted for President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenVirginia GOP gubernatorial nominee acknowledges Biden was 'legitimately' elected BuzzFeed News finds Biden's private Venmo account Kid reporter who interviewed Obama dies at 23 MORE, a record for a presidential candidate. But President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpVirginia GOP gubernatorial nominee acknowledges Biden was 'legitimately' elected Biden meets with DACA recipients on immigration reform Overnight Health Care: States begin lifting mask mandates after new CDC guidance | Walmart, Trader Joe's will no longer require customers to wear masks | CDC finds Pfizer, Moderna vaccines 94 percent effective in health workers MORE also beat all previous candidates — including winners — with about 74 million votes.

It’s time to build a bridge. Democrats and Republicans alike should find common ground in an effort to help unify the nation. They should move forward policies that would both have meaningful and clear impacts on people’s lives and enjoy broad popular support among the American public. With this in mind, an ambitious, bold infrastructure package presents political leadership with a rich opportunity. 

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Although Trump’s failure to enact infrastructure policy has become somewhat of a running joke in Washington over the past four years, policy makers from both sides of the aisle still view it as a priority. With state and local governments struggling with dire COVID-19-related budget challenges, an injection of infrastructure investments would be embraced. In addition, infrastructure spending is immensely popular with the public because fixing and modernizing infrastructure has real, tangible impacts on people’s everyday lives. 

Throwing money at the problem, however, is not the solution. We should not rebuild the same old infrastructure, the same old way. When spending on infrastructure, we need to make sure that the projects we fund are more than “shovel ready;” they must also be “shovel worthy.” The projects that we choose to invest in should be ones that are going to make American lives better. We should not invest in outdated infrastructure that is going to exacerbate the problems from air and water pollution to global warming that we are actively trying to solve.

In short, we need a blueprint for infrastructure that will make America cleaner, healthier and more resilient, like U.S. PIRG laid out in our recent report. It should be noted that I work at U.S. PIRG. The plan should include strategic investments in five key areas essential to protecting public health and addressing climate change: energy, water, natural infrastructure, solid waste and transportation.

We should invest in clean energy infrastructure by expanding tax credits for wind, solar and energy storage projects and by providing grants to help communities reduce energy use and deploy clean energy projects. We should not subsidize new fossil fuel infrastructure.

We should expand and electrify public transportation, beginning by immediately providing at least $32 billion in emergency operating support for transit in the wake of COVID-19-related budget shortfalls. We should repair our nation’s crumbling roads and bridges. We should not, however, build new highway lanes that end up leading to more traffic and cars on the road. 

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We should invest in clean water infrastructure that limits the flow of polluted runoff into our bodies of waters. We should replace lead service lines to protect Americans — particularly children — from the damaging lifelong health impacts caused by lead exposure. We should not bow to special interests and strip our nation’s waterways of Clean Water Act protections.

On Jan. 20, 2021, the United States will have a new president, helping to turn the page on a brutal year of disease and disruption. While stark political divisions will undoubtedly remain, a strategic vision for infrastructure investment could bridge ideological divides, seizing a critical opportunity to emerge as a stronger nation after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

This is more than an opportunity to spend money and stimulate the economy. It’s an opportunity to build a stronger and healthier America for our children and grandchildren by taking an innovative, 21st century approach to infrastructure. It’s an opportunity to build a better America.


Matt Casale is oversees the U.S. PIRG's toxics, transportation and zero waste campaigns, and leads the organization's climate program. You can follow the organization on Twitter @uspirg.