Recently, while Congress debated President Joe Biden’s $ 2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal, members of the public, private, and research sectors came together to discuss its breakthrough potential.
In a recent Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program panel on “Rebuilding American Infrastructure for the 21st Century,” US Senator Tom Carper, chairman of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, said the bill is an opportunity to drive the economy to expand slowing climate change and better meeting basic needs of residents.
“We have the opportunity to do great things to get the economy going – fix our roads, highways, bridges – in ways that will help this planet,” said Carper.
For many panelists, the right investments in technology appeared to be the key to achieving these economic and environmental goals. During the panel, several speakers also said that the infrastructure proposal should be seen not only as a necessary solution to curb the deterioration of existing systems, but also as a forward-looking opportunity for state, local and federal governments and other partners to proactively move towards a more desirable future. Designing for the future also means preparing for changing environmental conditions and experimenting with technologies in order to be prepared for possible developments, said Austin Ramirez, CEO of hydraulic components provider HUSCO International.
“We often think of resilience as resilience to climate change, and that’s important, but we also need to think about resilience in terms of how resilient our infrastructure is to technological change,” Ramirez said. “We have to make sure that what we build is relevant not only for the next five years, ten years, but also for the next 50 years.”
One of the major technological changes is the steadily growing drive for more environmentally friendly systems and solutions. According to Chris Castro, director of sustainability and resilience for the city of Orlando, green energy initiatives such as those included in Biden’s plan can deliver significant job boosts. Growing renewable energy opportunities could more than replace jobs lost to fossil fuel phasing out, he said.
“There are over 250,000 solar jobs in the country and it is still in the low single digit percentage of electricity in the entire US. If you compare that, coal mining jobs are currently less than 50,000 and dwindling, ”Castro said. “One of the greatest economic and job creating opportunities of the 21st century is this transition to a low-carbon economy.”
The number of solar workers quoted by Castro appears to come from nonprofit organizations that advocate solar energy. The Solar Foundation’s most recent census released in 2019 and its number of miners are consistent with federal data for the same year. Solar made up about 1 percent of the energy produced in the US that year, while coal made up 14 percent, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
THE BROADBAND BOOST
Landing such jobs in solar energy – as well as careers in almost every other sector – is usually much easier for local residents who can use high-speed Internet access to visit job search websites. The Metropolitan Policy Program underlined this in a report it published to coincide with the panel event. According to the study, however, more than 16 million households lack this broadband access. Biden’s infrastructure proposal aims to address this problem by connecting all residents to “affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband”.
“The digitization of everything has turned broadband from a luxury to a necessity,” said Adie Tomer, Fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Program, during the event. “We cannot thrive as a society if people cannot connect with the modern economy.”
Job seekers are not the only ones benefiting from such a move as having broadband access to households can provide them with a better financial situation in a number of other ways, e.g. B. by enabling residents to use digital banking tools and helping students develop their skills via online courses and resources, the report said. Expanding reliable internet connectivity to more areas could also help merchants as e-commerce retailers can reach more potential customers as the number of households equipped with broadband increases.
TRADE AND TRADE
Building a stronger economy can also rely on a combination of traditional brick and pavement development and newer technology. Senator Maria Cantwell, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, emphasized that a key element of national economic growth is the creation and maintenance of physical bridge, road, and waterway infrastructure that U.S. farmers, manufacturers, and other businesses support help deliver their goods quickly and reliably to ports, after which products for sale can be delivered to a growing base of middle-class consumers worldwide. Any problems during a transit phase could result in foreign competitors selling to overseas consumers instead, she warned.
“Delays in transportation infrastructure cost us all,” said Cantwell. “Freight can’t wait.”
Carper separately pointed out how greener technologies can play a role and modernize the vehicles used to move goods.
“Not a lot of people talk about hydrogen filling stations, but hydrogen could be really good for large trucks,” said Carper.
The installation of a large number of such stations along roads could make it easier for drivers to use long-distance vehicles equipped with hydrogen-powered fuel cells. These vehicles drive their engines using electricity that is produced in the fuel cells during chemical reactions between hydrogen and oxygen. In contrast to gas-burned vehicles, which release carbon dioxide emissions, fuel-cell powered vehicles only emit water vapor.
PAY FOR IT
Some speakers announced the long-term and widespread economic benefits of the federal infrastructure plan, but also expressed concern about funding for this and other initiatives. Major changes come at a price, and the current plans outlined by the White House are to fund the projects through amendments to corporate tax law. These adjustments include both measures to generate new revenue by increasing corporate tax rates and closing the loopholes that some large companies are using to avoid paying taxes, as well as efforts to cut some federal spending by adding subsidies and tax credits to the fossil fuel industry terminated, thereby freeing up the money for other purposes.
Some speakers argued that the federal government should also consider a variety of other fundraising tools. Debra Knopman, a principal researcher at RAND Corporation, advocated efforts to attract more private investment into infrastructure in general – not just a major project like this. Ramirez, who represented a voice from the corporate sector, said Biden’s plan should be based on more financial sources, including some form of usage fee – which could mean anything from gas taxes to highway tolls – and a carbon tax.
“It’s not funded adequately,” Ramirez said of the Biden plan. “Putting all of the infrastructure on the basis of a corporate tax hike is a bad strategy.”
The discussion of the federal infrastructure plan continues, and many state and local government members are likely to have their wish lists in mind. While many may disagree on certain details and decisions, likely all agree that significant investments in traditional and digital infrastructure and related technologies can massively transform the way people work, learn and live.
Tomer commented, “Show us your infrastructure and you’ll show us your priorities.”