The recently passed legislation known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could have far-reaching positive effects on lower-income families. The bill allocates an estimated 1.2 trillion dollars to improve roads, bridges, transportation, green energy, water management, internet access, and jobs. However, what does that mean for people living in neighborhoods and cities that have been traditionally underfunded? Can spending in disadvantaged communities decrease the massive inequities? HBCU CDAC Clean Energy Initiative explores five ways this legislation could make a lasting impact for the most vulnerable in our society.
1. Access to Clean Water
It’s hard to believe that the wealthiest country in the world still has communities without access to clean drinking water, but it's true. Just ask the people of Flint, Michigan. Currently, up to 10 million American households and 400,000 schools and childcare centers lack safe drinking water. The new legislation addresses this by earmarking just over $55 billion to remove lead pipes and modernize water systems.
2. Reverse Urban Planning Mistakes
It’s a fact that many highways and bridges were constructed without regard for the communities they disrupted, which mainly included residents of color. For example, in 1961, construction began on the ten-lane Santa Monica Freeway (Interstate 10), essentially tearing through the middle of one of the wealthiest and most historic African American neighborhoods in Los Angeles (West Adams). The construction resulted in the relocation of much of the area's affluent Black families. The Infrastructure and Jobs Act is trying to reverse some of these inequities by appropriating $1 billion to fund planning, design, demolition, and reconstruction of street grids, parks, and other transportation infrastructure that has historically divided communities.
3. Increase Broadband Access
$65 billion is appropriated to address the digital divide by reducing costs and connecting underserved communities to high-speed internet access. Funds would be available to public housing and community organizations for rental buildings, with a preference for those housing low-income families.
4. Improve Public Transportation
In total, the new investments and reauthorization in the Infrastructure Deal provide $89.9 billion in guaranteed funding for public transit over the next five years. Black Americans are five times as likely to depend on public transportation to access vital services and opportunities and often lack good public transit options. In addition, the transportation sector in the U.S. is now the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation will expand public transit options across every state in the country, replace thousands of deficient transit vehicles, including buses, with clean, zero-emission vehicles, and improve accessibility for the elderly and people with disabilities.
5. Tackle Legacy Pollution
The plan allocates $21 billion towards the clean-up and containment effort of Superfund and brownfield sites, abandoned mines, and capping oil and gas wells that are no longer in use. These efforts will help increase environmental justice by benefitting communities of color, as many of the worst pollution sites are close to low-income neighborhoods. These sites can be especially detrimental for the youngest residents as proximity to a Superfund site can lead to elevated lead levels in children's blood. As EPA Administrator Michael Regan noted, “The previous backlog and delay in handling Superfund sites have disproportionately affected minorities. Among Black and Hispanic communities, 1 in 4 people lives within 3 miles of a Superfund site.”
This Infrastructure Deal will benefit all Americans, but investing in communities that have often been ignored will also be an essential step towards advancing environmental justice. The plan will also create an average of 1.5 million jobs per year for the next ten years, leading to greater economic justice.
As Michael Regan states, “President Biden has made it clear that delivering environmental justice is a top priority for this Administration, especially in communities most gravely impacted by the pandemic and health outcome disparities from pollution.” And while just a start, it represents the most ambitious government investment aimed at reversing inequities in U.S. history.
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