This blog was written in collaboration with Shana Udvardy, Climate Resilience Analyst in the Climate and Energy Program.
On July 1, 2020, US House passed their infrastructure proposal, the Moving Forward Act (H.R. 2)*.
This massive infrastructure bill is the result of the work of many committees in the House. The centerpiece is the surface transportation bill (sometimes known as the highway bill) that gets passed about every 5 years. Then other legislative pieces got added, including adding tax incentives for electric vehicles and clean energy. The result is a good bill that will pass out of the House — the question, as always, is what will happen in the Senate.
We are excited in particular about the parts of the bill that help transition to vehicle electrification, deploy clean energy, and build resilience into our road and infrastructure systems. And yes, we definitely worked on many of these provisions with Congressional offices over the past year.
The bill is full of great policies, but here are 10 that pertain to electric vehicles, clean energy, and resilience that we especially like in the bill:
- It helps to deploy more electric transit buses. This provision would significantly increase investment in a relatively small program at the Department of Transportation that provides funding to local transit agencies so that they can replace their older, more pollution-emitting diesel buses with electric transit buses and the necessary charging infrastructure. For the past few years, this program got about $85-130 million a year, but was so popular that it received applications for projects totaling $500 million in 2019. Electric transit buses do not emit any pollution that negatively impacts local air quality – such as NOx or particulate matter–making them better for the climate. The more than $1.7 billion that the House will invest over the next five years is a real win and will help the United States transition to electric buses faster.
- Deploys more electric vehicle (EV) charging stations along highways. One of the questions I frequently get asked by people who are considering buying an electric vehicle is how to deal with longer road trips. This bill creates a grant program to facilitate the installation of charging stations along highway corridors. There are already several designated corridors with charging stations, but this bill will greatly increase the number of designated corridors and funding to install the charging infrastructure, which will allow people to travel greater distances more easily in their battery electric vehicles
- Invests in electrification at ports. Ports are the places where goods come into this country and start their journey to their final destination. Ports are also DIRTY. People who live next to ports breathe some of the most polluted air in the country. The ports that most of us think about are seaside, so there are idling ships, trucks, locomotives, and heavy equipment galore to move the freight. The inclusion of a grant program to help push port operators to invest in cleaner technologies will help protect the health of people who live in the surrounding communities and also the people who work at the ports.
- Increases deployment of electric vehicles and associated charging infrastructure in communities. There is a group of provisions that will together help increase deployment of EV charging infrastructure – from providing a rebate that state and local governments can apply for, to studying how to make sure that the infrastructure is deployed in underserved communities (and make sure this actually happens!) to providing technical assistance so that building codes can properly reflect how best to put in infrastructure in new buildings. There are also increases in funding to school districts who want to buy EV school buses and programs that ensure that fleets operated by the federal government are buying electric vehicles (including the Postal Service). Together, this package will help ensure that EVs and charging infrastructure are more widely deployed.
- Extends the EV tax credit. The consumer purchase incentive for buying an EV from Tesla and GM has run out. Last year a plan to extend the EV tax credit was rolled out and supported by 60 organizations. We were hopeful that it would pass last year, but that didn’t come to fruition and we’re delighted to see it included in this bill. This tax credit, which reduces the cost of an EV to consumers (whether they buy or lease their vehicle), is critical to overcoming one of the main barriers to electrification – the increased upfront cost of buying an EV. Thankfully, this bill includes an extension of this credit, ensuring that all consumers will get the credit going forward, regardless of what brand of EV they purchase. In addition to this provision, the bill also contains a new tax incentive for buying a used EV and a new credit for purchasing electric trucks, both of which we consider great additions to the tax code.
- Extends other renewable energy tax credits. These tax credits could help lay the foundation for clean energy growth in the US for the next decade, accelerating and expanding the nation’s use of clean energy like wind power, offshore wind, solar power, and energy storage, which help improve public health and fight climate change. These credits would also boost domestic clean energy manufacturing as well as incentivize wider adoption of labor standards across the industry to help ensure that workers benefit from the transition to a clean energy economy.
- Requires states and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to consider greenhouse emissions impacts of investments. States and local governments make most of the decisions about how and where federal transportation money gets spent. In metropolitan areas, MPOs coordinate and evaluate transportation investment decisions to ensure they are consistent with regional priorities, such as cleaner air, safer roads, and improved mobility. Provisions of this bill require states and MPOs to measure per capita greenhouse gas emissions on public roads, set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and demonstrate how transportation investments contribute to achieving these targets. These provisions will encourage investment in public transit, biking, and other projects that encourage lower-emission travel rather than expanding roads.
- Establishes a Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) Program. A PDM program will help ensure states invest federal funds into projects and programs that will increase the resilience of transportation systems nationwide. Why do we need a PDM program? First, much of our nation’s transportation system has been designed and built based on the past climate conditions and usage, yet today, climate change is exacerbating extreme weather events and adding an additional level of risk. Second, all too often a large portion of federal investments go towards fixing infrastructure after a disaster instead of making it stronger before the next storm.
- Establishes a process to study and report on how to plan and design federally funded transportation systems that are “built to last” to withstand current and future climate change impacts. This provision enables the National Academies’ Transportation Research Board to conduct a study of the federal actions needed to ensure that federal agencies are taking into account current and future climate conditions in planning, designing, building, maintaining, investing in, and upgrading any federally funded transportation infrastructure. This would bring us one step closer to the safe and resilient infrastructure system we need to protect our safety, our economy, and our environment now and for decades to come.
- Requires the National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board to assess the potential impacts of climate change on the national rail network. Such a study will shine light on how climate impacts, such as inland and coastal flooding, can erode and wash away rail infrastructure causing lengthy and costly shutdowns of the rail system. The study will also look at how extreme heat can buckle and deform pavement and railways along our road and rail systems. Understanding these risks and impacts will help inform how we can adapt our rail systems to withstand a stormier future.
These provisions in the Moving Forward Act will make important steps towards increasing deployment of electric vehicles and renewable energy, as well as clean and resilient transportation infrastructure. We are living in unprecedented times in which we find ourselves facing compounding risks — risks from COVID-19, climate extremes, and the socioeconomic tolls these strains place on our communities and local and state economies, especially historically disadvantaged and low-income communities. Investing in clean and resilient transportation is not only a wise use of federal taxpayer dollars, it will also reduce heat-trapping emissions from the US transportation sector (which produces nearly thirty percent of all US global warming emissions) and increase the resilience of the transportation systems nationwide, and by doing so, upgrade the almost failing D+ grade of our transportation infrastructure.
Fun Fact: Any House bills with numbers from 1 to 10 are special priorities of the majority party. Bills usually are numbered in the order they are introduced, but the first 10 numbers are reserved, and the speaker of the House gets to pick what bills get those numbers. Since infrastructure was identified as a priority by Speaker Pelosi when the 116th Congress came into session in January 2018, this infrastructure bill got special numerical treatment.