An update from Doug Phelps, president and executive director of The Public Interest Network
NOV. 12, 2021
For too long, America has failed to maintain our physical infrastructure. Our energy, transportation, water and waste systems have all fallen well beneath the standards we should hold for basic service, let alone the imperative of readying our society for a more efficient and resource-conscious future.
The adoption of the bipartisan infrastructure bill is a big step in the right direction. It provides record federal investment in:
- Shifting our nation to sustainable transportation, including funding for the electrification of school buses ($2.5 billion) and public buses (as much as $4 billion), charging stations for electric vehicles ($7.5 billion), public transit ($39 billion), rail ($66 billion) and safety, including biking and pedestrian infrastructure ($11 billion).
- Protecting Americans’ water and our health by getting the lead out of our drinking water systems ($15 billion, with $200 million for schools) and upgrading our sewage and stormwater systems ($55 billion).
- Speeding the cleanup of our nation’s most hazardous toxic waste sites by restoring the “Polluter Pays” fee.
- Making infrastructure more animal-friendly through pollinator-friendly roadside plantings and funding the construction of wildlife crossings that reconnect habitat ($350 million).
- Bringing affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to millions more Americans ($65 billion).
In a moment of deep political division, this set of priorities deserved — and actually earned — bipartisan support.
We are grateful for this progress and glad we tried to do our part in helping it come to pass. Immediately after the 2020 election, The Public Interest Network’s flagship groups, PIRG and Environment America, prioritized winning a solid foundation of broad public support for a federal package that would capitalize on commonsense ideas for solving the nation’s numerous infrastructure challenges. From there, we began our campaign:
- Last November, we jointly published “Blueprint For America,” our report making the case for wise investment of taxpayer resources in our health, safety and the sustainability of our planet.
- When President Biden proposed his infrastructure plan, our federal advocacy teams set about ensuring strong investment in broadly popular solutions, such as electric school buses, in the U.S. House and Senate infrastructure packages.
- In the spring, our networks of state PIRGs and environmental groups reached out to locally elected leaders spanning both parties to win their support. More than 360 of them, spanning 34 states, signed onto our letter of support for key investments. We then met with more than 85 congressional offices, delivering the letter to each of our states’ congressional delegations.
- This past summer, we released new research, including our “Safe for Swimming?” report on beach pollution from sewage, arguing for a new kind of infrastructure.
We and our letter-signers applauded the bipartisan infrastructure package passed by the Senate in August. Then, last week, the House found its way to approval of the package.
Next, our in-state leadership will work closely with allies in local and state government to ensure the successful implementation of infrastructure spending on the ground. And together, we will give the public the information they need to understand and appreciate how federal infrastructure investments improve the quality of the environment and our lives.
Thank you to President Biden and the many members of Congress who’ve shown that Washington, D.C., can get good things done for the American people if we can find ways to work together. Thank you to PIRG and Environment America’s supporters, without whom our work would not be possible. And congratulations to Lisa Frank, The Public Interest Network vice president and executive director of our Washington legislative office, and her team, as well as the PIRG and Environment America state organizations. And finally, big thanks to allied groups across the country for this victory.