The Infrastructure Bill is a Climate Bill

President Biden signs infrastructure bill

On Monday, President Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure bill into law. The $1 trillion bill is a version of the American Jobs Plan usually referred to as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF). It includes $550 billion of new spending, and contains more money for climate change than any legislation in American history. Even though it's not "the" climate change bill pending in Congress, it includes many investments directly intended to address the impacts of climate change, including:

  • $50 billion for climate resilience and weatherization
  • $65 billion for clean energy and grid-related investments
  • $7.5 billion to build a national network of charging stations for electric vehicles
  • $55 billion to expand access to clean drinking water
  • $21 billion to clean up Superfund and brownfield sites and cap orphaned oil and gas wells.

A second bill, known as Build Back Better, more focused on reducing carbon emissions, is still being debated and discussed on Capitol Hill and contains more than half a trillion dollars in climate investments.

Why This Matters

While the BIF is the largest single investment the United States has ever made toward climate change impacts, it will primarily fund preparations for extreme weather events, rather than tackling climate-damaging emissions. As Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse told the New York Times, "There's a lot of good stuff in the infrastructure bill to help us prepare for climate upheaval, but that package does very little to affect emissions, and therefore won't prevent climate upheaval."

Focus on Lead

Lead pipes have been a known danger for decades, but are still in use across US cities today because removing them is prohibitively expensive. The BIF will fund $55 billion toward eliminating lead pipes in an estimated 6 to 10 million homes and 400,000 schools and childcare facilities. When water poisoned with lead is consumed -- especially by children -- it can lead to brain damage. While lead poisoning has been on the decline in recent decades, it's still a public health issue that disproportionately impacts poor communities of color.

As a candidate, now-President Biden pledged to end the era of lead pipes and the White House has argued that this new $55 billion investment may be able to meet that goal. Other experts applaud the investment, but worry it isn't enough to replace all the lead pipes across the country, especially since there isn't comprehensive mapping of exactly where all the lead pipes are. Just fixing lines in Flint, MI would cost an estimated $55 million. Extrapolating out, Indiana University Professor Gabriel Filippelli estimates that the bill would cover around 1,000 Flint-sized cities.

NRDC: Lead Pipes Are Widespread and Used in Every State, July 2021

NRDCflix: Safe Drinking Water is A Right, December 9, 2020.