November 30, 2021 Despite Biden’s Infrastructure Bill, Big Challenges Remain

You’re reading Today’s Climate, and Vice President Kamala Harris is visiting North Carolina this week to promote the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was signed into law earlier this month.

Harris will visit the Tar Heel State on Thursday, the Charlotte Observer reports, accompanied by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, hoping to sell the $1.2 trillion package as a win for the administration in a state that voted for Donald Trump by just 1 percentage point over Joe Biden in 2020.

In many ways, swing states like North Carolina could play a key role in how successful the United States is in terms of slashing its greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the effects of the worsening climate crisis. The Congressional makeup after next year’s midterms, as well as who gets elected president in 2024, will largely determine the kind of climate policy the nation pursues in the coming decades. Currying favor among swing state constituents now could also help Democrats pass their flagship climate legislation—the nearly $2 trillion Build Back Better Act—the fate of which still hangs in limbo.

North Carolina stands to gain plenty from the infrastructure bill. With some $550 billion in new federal spending to draw from, the state could grab upwards of $8 billion to go toward its roads, bridges, public transportation, electric vehicle charging stations and broadband internet. In fact, government heads from across the country are already vying to pay for their own projects with the hundreds of billions of dollars in federal grants up for grabs under the infrastructure law, according to a report from McClatchy DC Bureau.

Yet even with the passage of Biden’s infrastructure package, many big challenges remain. As climate change causes seas to rise and storms to become more severe and frequent, the cost of upgrading the nation’s roads, bridges and energy infrastructure will only continue to grow, The Washington Post reports.

In many cases, the risks from global warming could cost as much as $20 billion a year to manage by the end of the century—a sum equivalent to about 40 percent of current federal road spending—according to the 2018 federal climate change assessment.

The timetable the Biden administration has laid out for the new spending is also incredibly ambitious and could be difficult to accomplish, the New York Times reports, with much of the $550 billion aimed to be spent in as little as five years.

The construction industry is facing sharply growing costs for steel products, up by 142 percent in the last 12 months, and other key materials. And shortages of skilled labor are worsening, exacerbated by Covid-induced retirements. In addition to lengthy environmental reviews, all these factors will likely slow down progress of allocating money to infrastructure projects.

Meeting that timetable would mean approving and distributing an additional $100 billion per year compared to what federal, state and local agencies were handling in 2019, before the pandemic.

“It is a very big bump,” Ken Simonson, chief economist at Associated General Contractors of America, which represents major infrastructure builders, told the Times. “My guess is that we are not going to see $550 billion spent in the first five years.”

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll see you again Friday.

Today’s Indicator

10 percent

That’s the portion of Republican voters who said addressing climate change is a top personal concern, according to a May poll by the Pew Research Center.