It’s time to move on sustainable infrastructure
A major infrastructure overhaul is long overdue. Revitalizing and updating our infrastructure is absolutely necessary for America to compete and maintain its leadership in the global economy. It’s essential to creating jobs, including immediate construction jobs across the country and spurring long-term job growth across a variety of sectors. And a smart infrastructure plan is also a crucial opportunity to take bold and immediate action on climate change.
Our country and our global economy are at a turning point, and any old infrastructure plan simply will not do. We need a plan to establish American leadership and prosperity for the next century. And for that, we need a plan built around sustainability and resilience. While serving to spur economic growth and increase our security, a smart infrastructure plan that takes the long-view must advance serious solutions to climate change.
The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that we have barely more than a decade to take serious action on climate change if we are going to prevent its most catastrophic impacts. Experts advise robust improvements in energy efficiency, innovative polices that support electrification across our economy, and investments to modernize our grid and encourage the deployment of more clean energy resources if we hope to prevent a global temperature increase that threatens all communities.
These policies are not only vital to addressing climate change, but they’re critical to building our communities and our economy in more resilient and sustainable ways. They are areas where we should be able to find bipartisan support and should be included in a forward-thinking, broad reaching infrastructure plan.
There are so many reasons to move forward now on a sustainable infrastructure plan. Investing in clean energy, for example, isn’t just about greenhouse gas pollution. It’s also about spurring job growth in America’s rural communities by increasing our reliance on wind power.
It’s about reducing hazardous air pollution that endangers the health of our families by increasing deployment of solar power and zero-emission vehicles. It’s about giving American businesses the competitive advantage in rapidly growing sectors like battery storage. And for some, it’s simply about energy freedom—whether that’s the freedom from dependence on resources imported from a foreign power or the freedom to power your own home without having to rely on the grid.
For members of Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, it’s about all of the above and the urgent need to address the climate crisis.
Too many Americans are losing their homes, their livelihoods, and in the worst cases their lives, to increasingly extreme storms, floods and fires. While striving to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, we also have to deal with the ones our communities are already facing by investing in more resilient infrastructure that can weather storms better and keep Americans safer. To ignore these dangers puts lives at risk and wastes significant taxpayer dollars. For example, in Norfolk, where sea-level rise is quickly putting many parts of the community in harm’s way, a recently constructed $318 million light-rail system—paid for primarily with federal funds—was built at sea level. Currently, the system risks ultimately being swept away and the money wasted, but with better planning, the tracks could have been elevated to safeguard against the rising tides.
Last February our Caucus put together a broad reaching infrastructure proposal, which includes many legislative ideas for building more sustainably. We can institute policies to protect natural ecosystems like wetlands and forests that provide communities with water filtration, flood mitigation and protection from storm surge, and we can support community investment in storm water systems that better manage increased flooding and water runoff associated with climate change.
Any infrastructure plan we consider must be a job creator and a bold climate bill. According to the BlueGreen Alliance, a clean infrastructure plan that protects workers, communities and the environment could create up to 2.7 million jobs across the economy.
It’s hard to enumerate all the possibilities for a smart, sustainable infrastructure plan. Our proposal only scratches the surface, but our hope is that it will spur action to address these serious environmental challenges while promoting economic opportunity and building the infrastructure we need to keep America competitive for the next century.
All our communities, red and blue, will only suffer if we fail to pass a sustainable infrastructure package.
Connolly, Matsui and Tonko are co-chairs of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC).