The nearly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill has $20 million to fully fund a federal grant program to promote "pollinator-friendly practices" near roads and highways for $2 million a year. That's one of the highlights of the massive package. Unfortunately, it also includes $110 billion to build, enlarge, and maintain those highways and roads to put more fossil-fuel burning cars and trucks on them, thereby doing little to mitigate the carbon production that's causing climate change and threatening those pollinators. Which, in turn, threatens the global food supply.
It's great in and of itself to say "yay, pollinators," but it's not going to do the job. This provision reflects much of the bill's shortcomings as described by Beth Osborne, director of advocacy group Transportation for America. The bill follows "the old fashioned approach to change, which is to create a little bitty program to change a problem that we’ll continue to create with a much larger pot of money." She points to another example: the slashing of President Biden's critical $20 billion plan for "reconnecting" communities of color bulldozed through in previous roadbuilding sprees. It's now $1 billion. "I would suggest you look back at other $1 billion programs created throughout the history of the reauthorization process and see which ones grew into anything mighty," Osborne said.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio echoes the frustration with the push in this legislation for more and bigger roads instead of a huge investment in transit and electric vehicles and passenger rail, along with a smaller investment in maintenance and repair of roads. "We have … states that just want to pave over the whole country, and it's not working," he said. "We've built, like, 30,000 lane miles in our 100 largest cities, and guess what? We're more congested than ever. It's called induced demand. And there are options to get away from that, and we want them to look at those options." Which requires funding those options.
The bipartisan bill isn't going to allow that, so climate advocates are putting their hopes—and lobbying efforts—into the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill Democrats are working on. For example, the BlueGreen Alliance of environmentalists and labor groups is highlighting the shortcomings of the bipartisan bill and $0 in funding for the nation's schools that are carrying over $270 billion worth of deferred maintenance. They also highlight a report from E2 Environmental Entrepreneurs on lead pipes.
The bipartisan bill puts $15 billion into a revolving fund for water utilities to replace lead pipes, but only if they want to. They won't be required to do so. That $15 billion would replace just 25% of the lead pipes in the U.S. E2 estimates that the full $45 billion Biden called for originally would "create and support 56,080 jobs annually for 10 years, or a total of 560,800 job-years. This annual estimate includes 26,900 direct jobs—construction workers, plumbers, pipefitters, heavy equipment operators—as a direct result of this activity. Another 13,600 jobs that last for 10 years are created throughout the value chain, and 13,800 jobs are created each year for 10 years as a result of workers spending their paycheck."
Other priorities, including public transit (slashed even from the initial agreement Biden made with the gang) rail, clean electricity standards, and carbon pricing are either dramatically cut from Biden's initial proposal or left out altogether. So it's a full-court press from progressives to get these provisions in the reconciliation bill or, from the ExxonMobil wing of the Senate, to keep them out.
"We need to attack climate change head-on. I am deeply worried that even within the two bills there's not enough," Sen. Elizabeth Warren told Roll Call. "But they're not fully baked yet, and it's possible that more will be added." Matthew Davis, senior director of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, agrees with both the concern and the hope. "There's still time for the reconciliation package," Davis said. "I don't think at all the moment is slipping on climate."
As long as the House Democrats hold firm that they will not vote for the bipartisan bill until they also have a reconciliation bill that answers their demands, that hope is not unfounded. It also remains entirely possible that the bipartisan bill falls apart. Republicans continue to play games on timing, on amendments, and on their final possible vote.
For example, Sen. Mitch McConnell's No. 2 guy, John Thune:
As of yet, there isn't an agreement on total amendments or timing. Many senators will be out on Friday for the funeral of their former colleague Mike Enzi of Wyoming. Presumably, those negotiations between McConnell and Schumer continue, and presumably McConnell is doing nothing to be helpful.