Congress Kicks Off First Hearings on Two Critical and Interrelated Issues: Climate and Infrastructure

Addressing both – the right way – can tackle our environmental challenges, make our communities more resilient and equitable, and create millions of quality, family-sustaining jobs.

February 5, 2019

This week, the 116th Congress is opening its first round of hearings focusing on two issues of vital importance to all of our future: climate change and infrastructure. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, the House Natural Resources Committee, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will all be setting the stage for the important policy work ahead by focusing their inaugural hearings on these issues of priority to both the BlueGreen Alliance and Americans struggling to find good-paying jobs that keep them ahead of the cost of living.

Americans are worried about the health impacts—to themselves and their families—of air and water pollution, and if they will be able to trust the systems that deliver their heat, power, and other necessities to be ready in the face of a changing climate.

BlueGreen Alliance’s own Deputy Director Mike Williams will be testifying in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee at their hearing on Wednesday entitled “Time for Action: Addressing the Environmental and Economic Effects of Climate Change,” where he’ll speak to how addressing the climate crisis can go hand in hand with building a fair, equitable, and just economy for all Americans—regardless of where they live—and that a robust infrastructure package is a key first step this Congress should take to both reduce emissions, make our communities more resilient, and create quality jobs across the country.

American infrastructure systems are in dire need of repair and modernization. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ latest Report Card gave the nation’s infrastructure a grade of “D+,” and estimated that getting to a grade of “B” would require a significant federal investment over the next 10 years.

Congress must move forward a plan to meet this need, including boosting revenue to support the public sectors’ ability to meet the challenge. A robust and ambitious infrastructure plan should address all aspects of our infrastructure needs, including:

  • The electric grid, including grid modernization, expansion of clean energy, and transmission;
  • Methane leaks in the natural gas distribution sector that waste energy and endanger our communities;
  • Surface transportation, including modernizing our roads and bridges, investing in and expanding our transit systems, and leading in the next generation of transportation infrastructure;
  • Industrial infrastructure and advanced manufacturing, including creating a more resilient and efficient industrial infrastructure, as well as boosting clean energy and transportation manufacturing;
  • Water infrastructure, including addressing lead and other harmful contaminants in water, rehabilitating and upgrading water distribution and treatment infrastructure, implementing sustainable stormwater solutions, upgrading our levees, and increasing water affordability;
  • Buildings, including investing in and making our schools, hospitals, commercial, and residential structures both cleaner and more efficient; and
  • Natural infrastructure, which entails improving climate resilience through natural defenses that act as carbon sinks, recovering our wildlife, reclaiming mines, and addressing the maintenance backlog for our public lands.

Making these investments will reduce air and water pollution—including the emissions driving climate change—and make our communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change. They will also create millions of family-sustaining jobs. BlueGreen Alliance’s research discovered that investing approximately $2.2 trillion in American infrastructure to improve these sectors from a “D+” grade to a “B” grade overall has the potential to support or create an additional 14.5 million job-years across the American economy, on top of adding a cumulative $1.66 trillion to our GDP over a decade – all while reducing greenhouse gas pollution—as opposed to continuing in a business-as-usual situation.

But we have to make sure we tackle this challenge the right way. This means:

  • Ensuring all projects are subject to Buy America and Davis-Bacon;
  • Utilizing project labor agreements, community benefit agreements, and local hire provisions;
  • Prioritizing the use of the most efficient, resilient, and cleanest materials and products;
  • Enhancing workforce training and development programs;
  • Increasing pathways to economic opportunities for communities and local workers, especially for people of color and low-income communities; and
  • Prioritizing public funding and financing.

The road to creating an equitable, environmentally friendly, and impactful new American infrastructure system will be long and complex. But now more than ever, Congressional leadership has a unique opportunity to work with committee leadership on a far-reaching and inclusive plan for our future. As these three committees move forward this week with these critical first hearings, we hope members will consider these priorities.