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Biden Infrastructure Proposal Prioritizes Equity and Environmental Justice

In parts one and two of our series on President Biden’s infrastructure plan, we have discussed infrastructure resilience, remediation, green technologies, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Today, we focus on a central theme woven into President Biden’s proposal: equity and environmental justice.

Many of President Biden’s proposals fall into several of the four areas of federal policy intervention that environmental research institution Resources for the Future has identified as necessary for a fair transition to greener technology: workforce development and labor standards, economic development, environmental remediation, and infrastructure, and public benefits. The summaries below include some of that overlap.

Workforce Development and Labor Standards

As evident by name of President Biden’s infrastructure proposal, the American Jobs Plan, workforce development is a key focus. The proposal focuses on two areas — (1) job creation and training and (2) labor standards — as it invests in low-income communities and communities of color. In particular, the plan calls for:

  • Creating jobs in disadvantaged communities by investing $4 billion in remediation and redevelopment of brownfield and Superfund sites. This investment allocates funds for economic and workforce development in these communities to carry out the remediation and redevelopment work.

  • Creating jobs in the electric vehicle industry by investing $174 billion in the market, including allocating funds for training workers to develop a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations by 2030, replacing 20 percent of school buses with electric buses, and electrifying the federal fleet.

  • Establishing the Grid Deployment Authority at the Department of Energy with the objective of creating jobs involving high-voltage transmission lines, including construction, manufacturing, and electrician positions.

  • Creating jobs by investing $16 billion in remediation and resilience projects aimed at plugging orphan oil and gas wells, and remediating and reclaiming abandoned mines, many of which are located in rural communities with histories of disinvestment and underinvestment.

  • Bringing power generation jobs to economically distressed communities by investing in 15 decarbonized hydrogen demonstration projects and establishing 10 facilities to demonstrate carbon capture retrofits for large steel, cement, and chemical production facilities.

  • Investing $12 billion in community college physical and technological infrastructure to provide more widespread access to community college.

  • Funding the Civilian Climate Corps, recently created via executive order (), to “mobilize the next generation of conservation and resilience workers and maximize the creation of accessible training opportunities and good jobs.”

  • Creating jobs in clean energy manufacturing by jump-starting the industry with $46 billion in federal purchasing of electric vehicles, charging ports, electric heat pumps, and other technologies to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Putting job creation power in the hands of communities by investing $20 billion in regional innovation hubs and creating a Community Revitalization Fund to “support innovative, community-led redevelopment projects” to “spark new economic activity, provide services and amenities, build community wealth, and close current gaps in access to the innovation economy for communities of color and rural communities that have suffered from years of disinvestment.”

To support these newly created jobs, the plan calls for:

  • Establishing labor standards for jobs related to the modernization of power generation and the delivery of clean electricity. These labor standards will promote unions and collective bargaining.

  • Increasing penalties for employers who violate health and safety rules.

  • Job training programs for formerly incarcerated individuals.

Economic Development

President Biden’s plan calls for several programs aimed at promoting the economic development of low-income communities and communities that may be economically impacted by a transition to greener technologies.

  • Implement a grant program for jurisdictions to remove potential barriers to affordable housing, such as exclusionary zoning and land-use restrictions.

  • Investing $100 billion to upgrade existing public schools and build new ones to address unsafe and unhealthy conditions in low-income communities.

  • Investing $40 billion to upgrade research infrastructures in laboratories, with $20 billion designated for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSI). These funds would include the creation of a new HBCU research laboratory focused on climate change.

  • Closing the racial and gender gap in research and development, science, technology, engineering, and math. This includes investing $10 billion in research and development investments at HBCUs and $15 billion to create research incubators at HBCUs and other MSIs.

  • Investing $31 billion to develop a national network of small business incubators and give small businesses access to credit, venture capital, and research and development funding. This funding includes community-based incubators to support communities of color and underserved communities.

  • Investing in rural and tribal communities to create jobs and economic opportunities. This includes constructing100 percent broadband coverage, rebuilding infrastructure, providing research and development funding, and providing economic assistance to farmers, which will comprise a $5 billion investment for a Rural Partnership Program to assist rural and tribal economic development.

  • Investing in community-driven environmental justice campaigns, like grants to address legacy pollution.

Environmental Remediation and Infrastructure

As discussed in our first blog post on the infrastructure bill, many of President Biden’s proposals are specifically aimed at remediation efforts. Several of these efforts are specifically geared towards low-income communities and communities of color. These programs include:

  • Investing $45 billion in EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to eliminate 100 percent of lead pipes and service lines in the country. Currently, an estimated six to 10 million homes receive drinking water through lead pipes and service lines. Many of these homes are in rural communities and communities of color.

  • Increase infrastructure resilience in low-income communities and communities of color vulnerable to flooding and extreme weather events caused by climate change. These investments take many forms, including FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructures and Communities program, HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program, unspecified Department of Transportation initiatives, and providing a tax credit for investments in disaster resilience, and modernizing public transportation. Households of color are twice as likely to use public transportation. Modernizing the infrastructure could create lower travel times and lower transit disruptions and encourage the use of public transportation.

  • Investing $56 billion in grants and low-cost loans to modernize drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems in rural communities.

  • Investing in $100 billion to build a high-speed broadband infrastructure to reach 100 percent coverage. According to the proposal, more than 30 million Americans do not have access to high-speed broadband, and many of those without access are in rural communities, tribal lands, and communities of color.

  • Plugging orphan oil and gas wells and cleaning up abandoned mines, which can cause ongoing air, water, and environmental pollution, and many of which are located in underserved rural communities.

  • Investing $4 billion in remediation and redevelopment of brownfield and Superfund sites, many of which are in disadvantaged communities. The plan also invests in economic and workforce development in these communities.

Public Benefits

The plan also calls for an increase in public benefits in several areas, such as:

  • Investing in the construction, preservation, and retrofitting of more than a million affordable, energy-efficient, electrified housing units.

  • Allocating resources for targeted tax credits, formula funding, grants, and project-based rental assistance to extend affordable rental assistance in underserved communities.

  • Passing the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act to invest $20 billion in tax credits to rehabilitate or construct 500,000 homes to create a pathway for low- and middle-income families to purchase a home.

  • Investing $40 billion to improve the infrastructure in public housing to address life-safety concerns, mitigate health hazards, and improve energy efficiency to reduce operating expenses. According to the Plan, these improvements to public housing will largely impact women, people of color, and people with disabilities.

  • Investing $25 billion to upgrade child care facilities and increase the supply of child care, especially in high-need areas. These investments are geared towards increasing women’s participation in the labor force.

  • Eliminating sub-minimum wage provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

  • Expanding federal programs to protect workers with disabilities.

  • Investing $5 billion in evidence-based community violence prevention programs to support communities and workforces.

  • Calling on Congress to pass a new subsidized jobs program to fight long-term unemployment and underemployment.

© 2021 Schiff Hardin LLPNational Law Review, Volume XI, Number 116
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About this Author

Robert A. Middleton, Schiff Hardin, Chicago, Energy Lawyer, Litigation
Associate

Robert Middleton is taking advantage of the opportunity for new associates to work in several practice groups for broadened experience and expanded legal counseling perspectives.

Prior to joining Schiff Hardin, Mr. Middleton was with Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, first as a 711 student, and, after graduation, as a Public Interest Law Initiative Fellow. He also gained valuable experience as a Schiff Hardin summer associate in 2013. Earlier, Mr. Middleton was a legal intern with Equality Illinois.

312.258.5875
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