The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill’s Best And Worst Features

The infrastructure bill funds some good things, but falls short of what’s needed. Worse, it funds some programs that will lock us into fossil fuels for decades.

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Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that passed has hidden and disguised provisions that could lock us into continued fossil fuels. We should celebrate the increased funding of some good programs, but the sneaky giveaways for fossil fuels are downright ugly. This piece breaks it down. 

The Good  

Increased Funding for Water Infrastructure, Lead Pipes, and Rail — But Not Enough

The infrastructure bill contains about $50 billion for our nation’s water and wastewater systems over 5 years. This includes $15 billion specifically for lead pipe replacement and $10 billion to address PFAS forever chemicals. Funding for water is critical as pipes across the United States are crumbling. This is evidenced by many well documented water failures in Flint, Michigan; Martin County, Kentucky; East Chicago, Indiana; and Benton Harbor, Michigan. Significantly, we won a major fight in removing language that would have promoted water privatization. That language is not in the final bill following objections from Food & Water Watch and hundreds of other organizations.

While this spending is certainly good, it does not go nearly far enough. The $15 billion for lead pipe replacement, for example, is only about a third of what is needed. Also only 49 percent of funding will be grants — the rest is loans. While $50 billion over 5 years sounds like a big number, it is far short of the $35 billion per year that is needed. This is the level of funding contained in the WATER Act, which Food & Water Watch worked to introduce the last few congresses. 

Finally, the legislation also increased the ability of federal regulators to approve new transmission projects. These are necessary to sustain a buildout of wind and solar power. It removes the ability of states to block these necessary projects. 

The bill also contains $60 billion for rail — necessary funding as public rail must be part of our transportation future. But again, this number is far short of what is needed. It is not even enough to modernize Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the busiest passenger rail line in North America. It is nowhere near the levels that could radically transform American transportation and avert climate disaster.  

The Bad  

The Infrastructure Bill Ensures Money for Pipelines and Petrochemicals and Weaker Environmental Review

There are several provisions of the infrastructure bill that are clearly damaging to the environment and promote fossil fuels. For example:

  • Specific funding for loan guarantees for a natural gas pipeline in Alaska; 
  • A billion dollars to support the development of a petrochemical hub in the Ohio River Valley; 
  • Provisions that weaken the National Environmental Policy Act, reducing public participation and making it harder to stop fossil fuel projects. The bill enshrines into law some provisions of a Trump executive order that rushed environmental review.  The order was reversed by Biden but now some of its terrible provisions are back in play. 

The bill also continues to prioritize investment in roads and highways over public transportation. Instead, we need to massively invest in public transportation and transit-oriented development to move away from fossil fuels. 

The Ugly  

This Infrastructure Bill’s Sneaky Subsidies For Carbon Capture, Hydrogen, and  Fossil Fuels

The bill’s most damaging provisions are wrapped in clean energy language, yet lock us into decades more of fossil fuels. There are over $25 billion in subsidies for carbon capture and hydrogen. Framed as climate-friendly, these provisions essentially subsidize the fossil fuel industry, which stands to benefit from them. At the same time, Congress left in place existing subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.

There are specific provisions, for example, for “regional clean hydrogen hubs.” Sounds good right? It’s ‘clean!’ Except the details state that two of these hubs must be in areas with the “greatest natural gas resources.” The plan is to increase fracking for the production of hydrogen, through steam-methane reforming. This ignores the fact that fracking releases massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere, driving climate change. 

Support for hydrogen and gas is littered throughout the bill. Even the somewhat touted provision for funding for Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations is polluted with these industry-friendly provisions. The funding isn’t just for EV charging, but for EV charging, as well as hydrogen and natural gas fueling stations. 

Biden and Congress Must Step up To Take on Fossil Fuels

While there are provisions in the bill that make some positive changes, for the climate, it is a net negative. The infrastructure bill further locks us into a fossil fuel future and does little to promote renewable energy. It is incumbent on Congress to act swiftly to pass legislation to really take on the climate crisis and on President Biden to use his executive authority. Rather than catering to the corporations that are driving us over a climate cliff, Biden must act to halt fossil fuel expansion.

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