The two-stage infrastructure package passing through Congress is the greatest opportunity we have ever had to address the climate crisis, putting the United States in a position to lead by example following a alarming international report warning that our action window is closing.
President BidenJoe Biden House Democrats hold key budget vote for Tuesday Biden envoy calls on North Korea to resume nuclear talks Biden to decide on extension of Afghan troop withdrawal in next 24 hours: MORE report and Democratic leaders in Congress deserve to have insisted that important climate initiatives are a priority, supporting strong investments in electric vehicle infrastructure, energy efficiency, renewables and other sectors.
But if we’re really going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars building new infrastructure like Democrats plan to do, we need to make sure climate change mitigation is built into the whole agenda. We cannot settle for anything less than building smart and sustainable communities with green and resilient schools, hospitals, affordable housing and other public facilities. At present, it is not clear that this is happening, posing a real risk that even with good intentions, a frenzied and messy legislative process could result in poorly planned projects that block decades of television broadcasts. unnecessary greenhouse gases.
Consider public schools, which are in dire need of facility upgrades. A GAO report released last year found that 54 percent of public school districts need to update or replace multiple building systems or features in their schools. This is especially true for low-income school districts which too often have aging and unsanitary buildings, and which are sometimes forced to close their doors due to inadequate heating and cooling. The lack of modern and healthy buildings in these communities is a missed opportunity to improve the learning ability of students while attracting and supporting teachers.
As President Biden said, addressing this disparity by investing in modern and sustainable school facilities should definitely be part of the infrastructure package. But we need to make sure we rebuild them better. With nearly 100,000 K-12 public schools nationwide spending $ 8 billion a year on energy, this is a tremendous opportunity to cut greenhouse gas emissions and cut costs. Simple steps like requiring sustainability standards such as ENERGY STAR and LEED for major school renovations and new construction projects that receive funding would not only achieve massive savings and emissions reductions, but also save money. improve indoor air quality.
Affordable housing is another good example. President Biden has made safe, energy efficient and affordable housing a pillar of his Build Back Better platform because it serves many goals: it solves the housing affordability crisis, creates jobs and reduces consumption of housing. energy and associated carbon emissions. But could Congress – in the blitz to seize the precarious openness they have to adopt something – could it approve the funding while failing to incorporate meaningful climate criteria? The result could once again lead to another generation of affordable housing that wastes energy, imposing high energy costs on residents and increasing emissions for decades. We must insist on minimum energy performance for any new funded project, with incentives or priority treatment for projects that go beyond.
This is not an empty concern. The infrastructure we are talking about accounts for the vast majority of US greenhouse gas emissions: homes and buildings account for almost 40% while transportation accounts for about a third. And Congress is already showing its willingness to let lax demands pass. In the bipartisan infrastructure legislation recently passed by the Senate, for example, a new carbon reduction program for transportation projects considerably relaxed the original climatic requirements that states must follow to receive grants, leaving loopholes that could result in projects across the country that do not actually reduce emissions. The risk of further easing is even higher in the second act of the infrastructure package – the Democratic-only budget reconciliation package that will follow the bipartisan bill – because of the obscure procedural rules surrounding the legislation.
To be sure, Congress and the administration are showing signs of getting it right. They should be applauded for emphasizing climate and resilience in a variety of sectors, and for recognizing that it is not enough to deal only with the power generation sector. They are also smartly taking a longer-term approach to spending than was done under the Obama-era Revival Act, where “out-of-the-box” projects were needed for immediate economic impact. . We are in a different economic situation than we were then, and we can take longer to inject that money into our communities.
However, even the best of intentions could get lost in the difficult political process of a single infrastructure package. We urge lawmakers and administration to stand firm and get it right. Like the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warns, we cannot afford not to.
Evans is federal legislative director at the US Green Building Council.