Climate takes center stage in sweeping federal infrastructure plan

Climate takes center stage in sweeping federal infrastructure plan
U.S. House Democrats this week unveiled plans to spend $760 billion over five years on infrastructure upgrades throughout the country. (Source: Pixabay)

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats this week unveiled plans to spend $760 billion over five years on infrastructure upgrades throughout the country.

A central theme throughout their plan: combating climate change.

The framework unveiled by Democrats on Wednesday prioritizes slashing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector while also boosting resiliency in the face of a changing climate.

“It’s an opportunity to build climate into the whole infrastructure plan,” Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat from Alexandria, told the Mercury in a brief interview on Wednesday. “I think the public support for the infrastructure plan is going to be much higher if we … make sure that [combating climate change] is an essential design element.”

U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat who represents Northern Virginia’s 8th District, speaks at a town hall meeting last year in Alexandria. (Allison Stevens/ States Newsroom Washington Bureau)

Democrats hope to plow more than $34 billion into clean energy investments, including efforts to upgrade the electric grid to accommodate more renewable energy and grants for local governments to fund energy efficiency and conservation projects.

The plan also seeks to invest $1.5 billion in electric vehicle infrastructure “to assist the transition to zero-emission vehicles.”

The sweeping package also aims to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on crumbling roads, bridges and tunnels around the country, while investing in mass transit, passenger rail, airports and water infrastructure projects. It would put $1 billion toward helping communities address contamination from per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

Securing a bipartisan deal on infrastructure could present one of the most significant opportunities this year to legislate on climate change, as most other initiatives have ground to a halt amid the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump and the upcoming 2020 elections.

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The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.