There are a lot of good things in the U.S. Senate infrastructure bill that was released earlier this week. The $1 trillion bill would address needs that our nation has faced for years, helping to repair, rebuild, and even reimagine our nation’s crumbling infrastructure by providing funding for things like roads, bridges, pipes, ports, highways, rail, broadband, and climate. And I am especially grateful that it would provide $150 million a year to the Washington Metro transit system for the next decade. But the bill falls short in several ways, and several things about this bill should be fixed before it is passed by Congress.
Clean energy, the environment, and pollution
The bill includes money for electric grid modernization, clean buses and ferries, electric vehicle charging stations, and lead pipe replacement, but the $7.5 billion in the bill for clean buses is not enough to fulfill the president’s promise to electrify 50,000 transit buses within five years. The $7.5 billion in the bill for electric vehicle charging stations is only half of the $15 billion needed to build the 500,000 EV charging stations promised by the president on the campaign trail. And the $15 billion in the bill for lead pipe replacement is only 25% of what leaders in the water sector say is required to replace lead pipes across the nation.
The bill also over-funds pollution, as it funds natural gas infrastructure and even includes language related to providing grant funding for the maglev, a project that would cause a net increase in CO2 emissions of 286-336 million kilograms per year, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, and that would devastate communities in Prince George’s County like Greenbelt. The bill should absolutely not allow any further federal funding whatsoever for the maglev.
Communities of color
The bill includes money to help reconnect Black communities and other communities of color that have been splintered or otherwise disadvantaged by past infrastructure-related construction, but the $1 billion in the bill for this purpose is only 1/20th of what the president initially said would be in his infrastructure plan. That is 5%. Now, whether or not one has taken critical race theory, one may recall that a racialized three-fifths compromise was struck as part of a 1787 apportionment debate. Well, my opinion is that Congress should not allow a racialized one-twentieth compromise to be struck as part of the 2021 infrastructure debate.
The bill includes money for broadband internet access and affordability, but the $65 billion in the bill is a mere 65% of the $100 billion that the president proposed to eradicate the lack of internet access facing millions of Americans, especially but not limited to people of color, rural communities, and low-income Americans in general.
The bill is supposedly paid for by ‘unused COVID-19 related relief aid’ and increased tax enforcement related to cryptocurrencies, but, at this point, I think there are far more questions and concerns than answers about the idea of diverting money originally intended for COVID-19 related relief aid to pay for this infrastructure bill. And, it appears that, to appease cryptocurrency lobbyists, senators have watered down the bill’s provisions on taxing cryptocurrency and, in turn, decreased the revenue that could be used to help fund the bill’s many infrastructure items and other necessary expenses that are not already in the bill.
The U.S Senate infrastructure bill could do a lot in terms of addressing the nation’s many infrastructure challenges, but, in its current form, the reality is that the bill underfunds clean energy. It underfunds the environment. It underfunds investments for Black communities and other communities of color. It under-funds broadband. It over-funds pollution. And its financing mechanisms are highly questionable.
We need an infrastructure bill, but this one needs a makeover, not a spineless rubber stamp
–COLIN A. BYRD
The writer is the mayor of Greenbelt. He also has announced he will challenge U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen in the 2022 Democratic primary.