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The U.S. Senate's bill falls short in several ways and needs to be fixed before it is passed by Congress, according to a Maryland mayor.
There are many good things in the U.S. Senate infrastructure bill that the Senate gave overwhelming bipartisan approval Aug. 10. The $1.2 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 (D.C.) 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 and the Environment
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 proposed Maglev, a high-speed rail project in the Northeast that would be priced far out of reach for everyday (non-wealthy) Americans, 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 my city Greenbelt. The bill should absolutely not allow any further federal funding whatsoever for the Maglev.
And, of course, the bill’s shortcomings when it comes to addressing climate change are only more concerning now that the United Nations released a new report on climate change that warns, in the most stern findings yet, of the significant impact that humans could have (for better or for worse) on future global warming, and about the short-time window for stopping things from getting worse, citing disturbing ongoing trends and future implications related to heatwaves, floods, wildfires and hurricanes, and threats to wildlife.
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 President Biden 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.
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—including communities in places like New Orleans, Baltimore and Syracuse, N.Y.—but the $1 billion in the bill for this purpose is only 5% of what the president initially said would be in his infrastructure plan.
Now, whether or not one has taken a course on critical race theory, one may recall that a racialized three-fifths compromise was struck as part of a 1787 Constitutional Convention apportionment debate. In my view, Congress should not allow a racialized one-twentieth compromise to be struck as part of the 2021 infrastructure debate.
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. It also 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 in the bill. And, on top of that, senators decided to drop plans to increase IRS funding—plans that could have helped boost tax enforcement and, of course, raise revenue to help pay for 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 under funds broadband. It underfunds investments for Black communities and other communities of color. It over funds pollution. And its financing mechanisms are highly questionable. And, given that the bill is over 2,700 pages—longer than two Bibles—it is highly unlikely that a single senator read the entire bill, since the bill was released less than a week prior to its passage in the Senate and senators had been on the floor for much of the time between the bill’s introduction and passage
Despite that, the Senate was relatively unwilling to strongly consider any further changes to the bill, with the one notable exception being a protracted debate about potential cryptocurrency amendments. This is a topic of keen interest to the Bitcoin community but certainly not one that comes up in my city or in most cities, towns and states as much as other issues that could be better addressed in the bill—issues like the environment, clean water, electric vehicles, broadband and systemic racism.
But I digress. At this point, the best (and perhaps only) shot for us to fix the bill in these more substantial ways is now clearly on the House side. Even so, the point remains: America needs an infrastructure bill, but this one needs a makeover, not a spineless rubber stamp.
Colin Byrd is mayor of Greenbelt, Maryland.