'Build Green' Infrastructure and Job Creation Act Announced

ON 03/25/2021 AT 10:15 PM

Two Senators and two House members proposed draft legislation yesterday which would inject $500 billion into the economy to help push public transportation into the post-fossil-fuel era.

New York City Metropolitan Transport Authority Prototype Electric Bus

A prototype all-electric bus rolled out of the Michael J. Quill Depot on the West Side of Manhattan and performed a test run on the M42 line on September 13, 2013. If the BUILD GREEN Act is passed, there will likely be many more of all-electric vehicles similar to these and electric railway systems in operation across the United States in the near future. Photo: Metropolitan Transport Authority, CC

The new bill was co-sponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren Ed Markey, both of Massachusetts, along with House Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Ortez (D-New York) and Andrew Levin (D-Michigan).

The proposed law would focus grants totaling $500 billion over a period of ten years. These grants, crafted like the Department of Transportation’s BUILD program, would be 100% directed to state, local, and tribal projects aimed at transitioning the nation from fossil fuel powered public transportation means to all-electric solutions.

Done right, the program would cut greenhouse gas emissions while creating an estimated 1 million jobs in the process.

If enacted as currently structured, the BUILD GREEN Infrastructure and Jobs Act would:

  • Cover up to 85% of all eligible costs for rebuilding and transforming the infrastructure of the nation. The bill includes provisions for the Secretary of Transportation to raise that percentage to 100% at his discretion.
  • Provide public transportation which would eliminate an estimated 21.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year. The bill’s authors calculate that would be equivalent to removing 4.5 million gasoline- or diesel-powered cars from America’s roadways.
  • Proactively target a minimum of 40% of the BUILD GREEN project grants for what the bill calls “frontline, vulnerable, and disadvantaged communities.”
  • Prevent around 4,200 deaths a year from air pollution and save around $100 billion in health care costs. A recent study showed that as many as one in five deaths annually are tied to air pollution, on a global basis.

“The climate crisis is an existential threat to our planet,” said Senator Warren in a statement released yesterday, “but it’s also a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, create a million good new jobs, and unleash the best of American innovation.”

Representative Ocasio-Cortez said the bill would address both refreshing the aging transportation infrastructure of the nation while launching a critical change in the way public transport operates.

"The BUILD Green Act would improve mass transit and create nearly one-million good-paying jobs. In most of the country, subways, buses and other public transit are practically inaccessible or completely overburdened. This bill would make a dramatic, material difference in the everyday lives of hundreds of millions of people,” she said. "The BUILD Green Act applies many of the Green New Deal resolution's transportation goals to grants provided by DOT.  The bill helps ensure that our federal dollars are being invested in infrastructure that can sustain the impact of climate change and better prepares our communities for extreme weather events. 

Within Congress, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and cosponsored in the House by Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Gwen Moore (D-Wisc.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Brendan F. Boyle (D-Pa.), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), Chellie Pingree (D-M.E.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), and Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.).

The bill is also backed by Sunrise Movement, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, 350.org, Greenpeace, Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth, Center for Progressive Reform, GreenLatinos, Rewiring America, New Consensus, Zero Hour (thisiszerohour.org), Data for Progress, WE ACT for Environmental Justice.

According to a new poll conducted by Data for Progress, an estimated three in five Americans would back the bill as currently structured. While the poll is helpful in understanding public sentiment, having a poll in place as the bill was introduced may turn out to be a smart political tactic.

As the Biden-Harris American Rescue Plan Act, the first major economic stimulus package passed by the current administration to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and its side effects, was introduced, parallel polling helped change the narrative of what happened in Congress. While the voting was along hardline partisan lines, President Biden was able to use the polls to point to far stronger bipartisan support among the electorate. Polls from Politico/Morning Consult showed as many as 59% of Republicans somewhat supported the final package, from Pew Research showed 41% of Republicans supported the bill, and from CNN revealed 61% of Americans supported the final bill.

With Republicans still strongly backing the fossil fuel community, this bill will likely be fought against far harder than the American Rescue Plan Act. It will also likely be filibustered to knock out some of its provisions, and there will be insistence in amendments to it to support ongoing fixes to the existing fossil fuel infrastructure. One can expect that only a 100% Democratic Party support for the plan will get this one even to the floor to be considered. It will then likely change in major ways if and when it reaches final approval in both chambers of Congress. By the time the various Washington swamp monsters are done shaping the bill it may do more harm than good. But at least it is a start.