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Bipartisan infrastructure legislation clears US Congress, heads to Biden’s desk for signature

08 November 2021 Amena Saiyid

A $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure ushered through the US House of Representatives 5 November will unleash $500 billion in new spending for creating the nation's first electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure network, while shoring up an outdated electric grid, backed up ports, aging transit systems, as well as crumbling drinking water and wastewater systems against climate impacts.

After a 228-206 vote, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) now heads to the desk of President Joe Biden, who has been waiting to sign the measure since the US Senate passed it in August. Gushing about its significance a day after the House vote, Biden said: "I don't think it's an exaggeration to suggest that we took a monumental step forward as a nation."

Although the measure had Republican backing in the Senate, H.R. 3684 was stalled in the House due to wrangling between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party. The progressives wanted to make sure that both pieces of Biden's Build Back Better economic agenda received a vote, not just the one that had Republican backing.

H.R. 3684 is one of two measures that Democrats introduced in the US Congress this year to implement the Build Back Better agenda over the opposition of Republicans, and some within their own party. The climate and social welfare measure, which Biden agreed to pare in half to $1.75 trillion to appease Democrats in Republican-leaning states, is expected to be taken up by the House the week of 15 November. That bill will then move to the Senate, where it continues to face opposition from Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat-West Virginia.

Opportunity to minimize supply chain disruptions

The bill's passage was welcomed by business and manufacturing groups who see the measure as an opportunity for investment in decarbonizing the economy, easing gridlock to minimize supply chain disruptions at the nation's ports, and modernizing the aging grid and transit infrastructure to deal with a transition to clean energy.

Tom Kuhn, who heads the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned electric utilities, said the measure provides "an important down payment on the electric vehicle charging infrastructure and low/no-emission buses that will help to accelerate the electrification of the transportation sector, which currently is the largest source of carbon emissions in the US economy."

The National Ocean Industries Association saw the measure as an opportunity to modernize port infrastructure, reducing gridlock at ports, minimizing supply chain disruptions, and promoting offshore energy installation—especially as Biden has made 30 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 a goal for his administration.

Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, though delighted with the measure's passage, said "it falls short of the bold investments needed to address the interlocking crises of climate change, economic insecurity, and environmental injustice."

The bill's funding includes:

  • $7.5 billion to create nationwide EV charging infrastructure;
  • $65 billion to upgrade the nation's electric grid to allow the construction of thousands of miles of transmission lines to link far-flung communities with renewable power;
  • $5.25 billion to acquire zero-emission and low-emission buses and another $2.5 billion for low-emissions ferries;
  • More than $50 billion for shoring up resiliency against extreme events like droughts, floods, and wildfires that are affecting various parts of the country;
  • $21 billion for environmental remediation, including capping orphaned natural gas wells and reclaiming land around abandoned mines;
  • $17 billion for port infrastructure and $25 billion for airports to address repair and maintenance backlogs, reduce congestion and emissions near ports and airports, and drive electrification and other low-carbon technologies;
  • And, $55 billion to upgrade drinking water and wastewater infrastructure through a combination of loans and grants.

Cutting across partisan divides

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate are taking credit for what advocates say is the largest investment in the nation's infrastructure.

"We've cut across partisan divides and delivered extraordinary investments in everything from roads and transit to drinking water and wastewater to broadband and flood control," said Senator Thomas Carper, Democrat-Delaware, who chairs the chamber's Environment and Public Works Committee.

Like Carper, Representative Frank Pallone, Democrat-New Jersey, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that the measure would accelerate the move to clean energy, "whether it be investments to expand renewable energy and make our electric grid more resilient and reliable, or funding for electric vehicle infrastructure."

However, Carper said there is no time for complacency, noting that Congress still needs to act quickly to pass the Build Back Better Act, the second piece of Biden's agenda, which he said will "help lower costs for families, create clean energy jobs to tackle the climate crisis, advance environmental justice, and build a brighter future for all Americans."

Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who is the top Republican on the committee Carper chairs, called the passage of H.R. 3684 a "historic" investment in America's core infrastructure. She also took the opportunity, as did many of her GOP colleagues, to slam the climate and social spending piece of the Build Back Better Act.

Posted 08 November 2021 by Amena Saiyid, Senior Climate and Energy Research Analyst

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