Nov 21st, 2021, 12:17 PM

What Does the US Infrastructure Bill Mean For Climate Change?

By Julia Dudley
Photograph From Unsplash By: Li-An Lim
Image credit: Li-An Lim on Unsplash
President Biden’s Infrastructure Bill will takes time, lots of money, and patience to achieve its goals for the economy, equality, and climate change. But if executed successfully, it could create positive effects for generations to come.

On November 9, the United States Senate approved President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Bill, a campaign promise finally fulfilled and now labeled as the “American Jobs Plan”. It echoes Biden’s “American Rescue Plan”, referring to the COVID-19 relief bill rolled out earlier this year.

Biden and his fellow Democrats believe that the bill will accelerate the fight against climate change as it focuses on shifting to new, cleaner energy sources while also helping to promote racial equality within the economy. By elevating wages, creating better access to internet services and quality drinking water, as well as implementing efficient commute times the bill supports policies that will successfully battle climate change.

Achieving goals such as these won't be cheap. The cost will be $1.2 trillion, to be exact. The costs for the infrastructure bill would be offset by increasing corporate tax revenues over a 15-year period focusing on multinational companies that earn and book profits overseas. This tactic is a way to fund the plan and have companies reinvest in America by investing and producing within the country. For Republicans and even some Democrats, this is a hefty bill to pay, and they are even afraid it will further increase the already significant debt. Biden claims that spending within an eight-year timeframe and the tax increase will offset budget spending within the 15 years, reducing the budget deficit.

As promised, President Biden is stepping up to the plate to fight against climate change which is a core part of the Infrastructure Bill and is embedded throughout the plan. Roads, bridges, and airports will undergo a long-overdue refurbishing to become more resilient to the effects of increasingly extreme storms, floods, and fires. Not only that, but the bill also focuses on modernizing and transforming three of the major greenhouse gas polluters: cars, power plants, and agriculture.

Within the $1.2 trillion dollar bill, an allotted $174 billion will be used to fund the creation of electric vehicles and about half a million electric vehicle charging stations. Scientists and economists claim that this is only about a quarter of cars and charging stations needed to make the electric car mainstream, yet it is still an effective move to get people to make the switch.

In addition to investing in electric vehicle production, the “Clean Electricity Standard” is also proposed with the bill. With this addition, a federal mandate will require a certain percentage of electricity in the United States to be generated by zero-carbon energy sources such as wind, solar, and possibly nuclear power. Another insert is a $16 billion dollar budget to help fossil fuel workers switch into new jobs that help reduce waste in the fossil fuel industry, such as capping leaks on defunct oil wells and shutting down retired coal mines.

While investing in the fight against climate change, Biden also proposed to retool and relaunch the original Civilian Conservation Corps, into the 21st century Civilian Climate Corps giving it a $10 billion budget. Initially established in 1933 during the Great Depression, this organization focused on putting men to work building roads, bridges, telephone lines, dams, and other construction projects as an effort to stimulate the economy and improve infrastructure. In a successful attempt to get men back to work, the organization ended in 1942 due to World War II and was not revived. The group's goal would be to help lower the unemployment rate by employing thousands of young people, strengthening the United States’ natural defenses, and the maintenance of public lands. 

Renovating transportation within the United States is extremely important to improve the country's overall well-being and economic stability. However, the Infrastructure Bill also focuses on taking on agriculture, more specifically the meat and poultry industry.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighted the infrastructure bill stating, “broadband funding will give farmers access to real-time information and new technologies needed to maintain their competitive edge.” He continued, “it will also help rural communities become better connected to jobs, telemedicine, and distance learning.”

The meat and poultry industry makes up the largest agriculture sector. In 2017, US meat production was equivalent to the weight of 52 billion pounds while US poultry production weight was 48 billion pounds. According to a 2016/2017 analysis by John Dunham & Associates, the US meat and poultry industry accounts for $1.02 trillion in total economic output or the equivalent of 5.6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Also, the industry is responsible for making 5.4 million jobs with $257 billion in wages.

Many agricultural groups, such as the Michigan Agri-Business Association, Farm Credit Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and National Association of Wheat Growers, support the infrastructure bill.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Executive Director of Government Affairs, Allison Rivera, addressed the new Infrastructure Bill claiming that investing in infrastructure will create greater profitability within the industry, “The ability for cattle producers to efficiently raise cattle, haul them safely, and compete in a fast-paced global marketplace has a direct link to the economic stability of rural communities and resilient food supply chain.”

However, not everyone in the industry is onboard with increased government intervention. The House Agriculture Committee held a “State of the Livestock Industry” hearing in October. Present were members of the meat and poultry industry as well as government officials within the USDA.

Francois Leger of FPL Foods interjected during the committee meeting rejecting government intervention and mandates, “the USDA has announced plans to propose new Packers and Stockyard Act rules to regulate interactions between packers and producers.” He continued, “bills introduced by Congress would place certain purchasing requirements on packers. Government intervention could jeopardize packers’ ability to provide products customers and consumers desire.”

Increased government regulation would mean that factory workers would have to be paid more, factories forced to maintain better work conditions, and animal care would be held to a higher standard which means more time and money spent. As meat and poultry account for 54 million jobs, according to a 2017 North American Meat Institute report, employees in meatpacking/processing plants made $14.98 an hour plus benefits while poultry packing/processing plants made $13.58 per hour plus benefits.

With better investments and machinery, farmers can better produce beef and poultry that is cost-efficient, healthy, and less environmentally detrimental. Over the last century or so, the average size of a chicken has increased due to breeding techniques, however, some producers are going back to breeding smaller birds. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and poor breeding practices keep supply high and prices yet lower quality and overall industry standards.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working with the meat and poultry industry to better hold companies accountable for their supply chains and processing practices. As of recent years, salmonella in poultry has affected more than a million consumers with around 23% of those who contracted the bacteria resulting from consuming chicken and turkey.

Across the United States, 1 in 4 rural Americans owns forestland. With a number as large as that, family forest owners like farmers and ranchers can provide significant opportunities to help address climate change. Hence, the investment in large companies within the industry and smaller local farmers is significant and included in the Infrastructure Bill.

Reinvesting in America by improving from the inside out is the best way to make actual changes. Improving infrastructure will lead to overall benefits for the economy, equality, and climate change. President Biden’s Infrastructure Bill will take time, lots of money, and patience to achieve its goals. But if executed successfully, it will create positive effects for generations to come.