If we’re really rebuilding our infrastructure, we have to do it right
The two-step infrastructure package that’s moving through Congress is the biggest opportunity we’ve ever had to address the climate crisis, putting the U.S. in a position to lead by example in the wake of an alarming international report warning that our window for action is closing.
President Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress deserve credit for insisting that important climate initiatives be a priority, supporting robust investments in electric vehicle infrastructure, energy efficiency, renewable power and other sectors.
But if we’re really going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars building new infrastructure as Democrats are planning to do, we need to ensure that climate mitigation is baked into the entire package. We can’t settle for anything less than building smart, sustainable communities with green and resilient schools, hospitals, affordable housing and other public facilities. Right now, it’s not clear that will happen, posing a real risk that even with good intentions, a frenzied and messy legislative process could result in poorly planned projects that lock in decades of unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions.
Consider public schools, which are in dire need of facilities improvements. 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 particularly true for low-wealth school districts that too often have aging and unhealthy buildings, and that at times are forced to shut down over inadequate heating and cooling. The lack of modern, healthy buildings in these communities is a missed opportunity to boost students’ ability to learn along with attracting and supporting teachers.