Hundreds of local officials from across the nation Tuesday called on the Biden administration and Congress to go big with a "transformative national infrastructure plan" that centers the health of communities by boosting climate-friendly energy and transportation as well as safe drinking water.
The demand is laid out in a letter (pdf) from officials in major cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago as well as smaller communities like Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
The letter was drafted by progressive advocacy groups Environment America and U.S. PIRG and bolsted by their local affiliates and others nationwide.
"Infrastructure touches virtually every aspect of American life" and is "at the heart of our greatest challenges, many of which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic," U.S. PIRG environment campaigns director Matt Casale said in a statement.
"But simply spending more money isn't the answer," said Casale, who argued that the federal government needs "to fund more than shovel-ready projects; we need to make sure those projects are shovel worthy. The projects that we invest in should make American lives better."
The letter puts blame on the nation for having "allowed infrastructure to deteriorate," citing "crumbling roadways" and "broken sewage systems." There has also been problematic infrastructure like "unnecessary highway expansions" as well as "giant landfills, power plants, and pipelines," the offiicals say.
While problems have been longstanding, the officials say the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted them. The letter points to the crucial need for water for hygiene, air pollution's links to worse Covid-19 impacts, and the fact that the pandemic has "battered the finances of state and local governments."
The officials suggest seven broad areas for lawmakers to prioritize in an infrastructure package: clean water, including through preventing PFAS contamination; clean transportation that would electrify public transportation; clean energy that would increase tax credits for wind, solar, and energy storage projects; natural infrastructure to make 30% of U.S. lands and oceans protected over the next decade; reducing waste, such as by boosting composting; healthy schools that would include zero-emission electric school buses; and accessible broadband, to ensure internet accessibility for all.
Such a "bold vision," the officials wrote, could trigger a crucial and unifying moment for Americans and would take on the "significant challenges facing our communities and our nation as a whole."
Austin, Texas Mayor Steve Adler, a Democrat, put the infrastructure goals in the context of the deadly Winter Storm Uri, which struck his state last month and resulted in billions of dollars in damage.
"If the winter storm taught us anything," said Adler, "it is that we need our infrastructure to be more resilient and sustainable."
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"We need to strengthen our electric grid by increasing investments in energy efficiency, solar, and storage as emergency sources of power and other clean energy solutions. I'm proud to stand with hundreds of other local leaders in support of a bold vision to address our infrastructure," he said.
The new letter comes as Democrats turn their attention to Biden's campaign proposal for a far-reaching infrastructure package.
As Reuters reported Monday, the president "may sketch the outline of the plan, promised on the campaign trail, in a joint address to Congress this month and provide details in April, giving lawmakers several months to work on the bill before an August recess, people familiar with the White House plans said."
GOP support for such a package is unlikely. And there's the matter of opposition from conservative Democrat Joe Manchi nof West Virginia. According to The Associated Press:
The package could include policy changes—on green energy and immigration—and even try to make permanent some of the just-passed Covid-19 assistance such as child tax credits.
"It is going to be green and it is going to be big," [Rep. Peter] DeFazio told The Associated Press.
Democrats used a fast-track budget process known as reconciliation to approve Biden's Covid-19 relief plan without Republican support, a strategy that succeeded despite the reservations of some moderates.
But work on passing infrastructure legislation in a Senate split 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris providing a tiebreaking vote will probably prove more difficult. Moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., recently made clear he will block infrastructure legislation if Republicans aren't included.
The package will also like spur a battle over increasing taxes, as The Hill reported Tuesday.
But as Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the Senate Finance Committee chair, sees it, the matter should be clear-cut.
"Billionaires and mega-corporations have never done better, and ensuring they pay their fair share is critical to funding long-overdue investments in rebuilding our roads and bridges and transitioning to a carbon-free future," Wyden told outlet.