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Navigating Infrastructure...

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27th Jul 2021




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When you think of infrastructure, you tend to think of conventional physical infrastructures such as roads and bridges. These are important aspects of life that have been the focal points of economic and social development in recent history. Most notably was the massive infrastructure investment within the New Deal in the 1930s in response to the Great Depression. President FDR made this fiscal policy a focal point of his administration. It was largely responsible for not only creating jobs but also for improving key U.S. infrastructure that has benefitted the country ever since. That was almost a century ago and now many experts and politicians, and everyday people, agree that it is time to invest further in improving a multitude of different aspects of the country’s infrastructure. Choosing the method of how to improve infrastructure and what to include in the package has been up for debate in recent months.

Since it has been so long since such a massive infrastructure package has been enacted, many of the bridges, roads, dams, airports, docks, electrical grids, etc. are in some cases dangerously in need of upgrades. Recently there have been reports of bridges collapsing such as the pedestrian bridge in Washington D.C. which collapsed over Interstate 295 in June. This is a key issue that affects everyone since there is a common problem that most people look to the government to fix. For example, everybody hates pot-holes and wants their taxes to go to repairing the roads. The role of the government is not always agreed upon, but traditionally the government has played a significant role in improving public goods and spaces through infrastructure improvement projects.

While many of these physical aspects of infrastructure remain important to our daily lives, other aspects that are equally or more important for the 21st century have been delayed in joining the conversation on what can be defined under infrastructure. For President Biden’s Infrastructure proposal, many Democrats were looking to add some of what they call more modern aspects of infrastructure. Mainly these included aspects to fight climate change and expand internet access.

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The new infrastructure package is called the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework which looks to be $1.2 trillion. This deal is a compromise of the original proposal which included substantial more efforts to fight climate change. The key efforts being electric vehicle prioritization and charging stations as well as what is called the Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard which would require some electricity to come from zero-carbon sources such as solar or wind power. The final bill sees a reduction in the budgeting for some of these measures that are designed to fight climate change and instead focuses on the traditional infrastructure aspects. Some of the highlights of the proposal that fall under the traditional infrastructure aspects are: improving transit and rail networks while including some provisions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (by expanding the rail network, they look to replace the use of cars and other more polluting methods of transportation), improvements to roads and bridges, remove all lead pipes and upgrade water waste and treatment plants to deliver clean drinking water and to build more transition lines to improve the power grids.

The plan also includes some modern, environmentally-friendly proposals that can be mixed in with the traditional infrastructure plans. The concern by many Democrats lies in the budgeting, while many environmentally friendly aspects are included in the proposal, they are not budgeted as highly. It seems that the plan was to prioritize passing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework first and then include a second bill that will consist of more measures to fight climate change. The first bill has a lot of compromises but seems to be an important step to assure that the traditional infrastructure is taken care of and that both sides of the aisle feel as though they had a say in it. This attempts to unite the parties under a common, easy to agree-on a bill that would have strong benefits for almost every U.S. citizen.

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This second bill is referred to as the Human Infrastructure bill recently passed by the Senate Budget Committee on July 13th. The combination of these bills looks to modernize U.S. infrastructure and help fight climate change while investing in growing sectors in the 21st century. The U.S. has noticed it is falling behind in high-speed internet access and renewable energy and while the first bill addresses these issues it is not the priority. The second bill is said to be more catered to what leftist Democrats want but it still needs approval in the Senate. More moderate Democrats, and some Republicans, want to make sure that Biden’s new tax proposal will help pay for these large spending bills.

Infrastructure today looks very different from 100 years ago but its impact on society is still just as important. By including measures to fight climate change, the U.S. is making concrete progress in reaching some of the goals outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement that the U.S. just recently rejoined. We’ll have to wait and see if other countries start including climate aspects in their infrastructure bills. As climate change poses more of a threat, more and more governments will surely look to see the most efficient and effective way to modernize and improve their economies to better fight climate change.