The Lead

White House touts clean energy, transit, rail projects in sprawling infrastructure bill

By: and - November 10, 2021 10:51 am

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm addresses reporters April 8, 2021, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Cameron Smith/Official White House Photo)

WASHINGTON — Federal officials on Tuesday offered details about how money from the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure bill would be spent, emphasizing the pending law’s potential to add clean energy capacity.

Department of Transportation officials highlighted the $1.2 trillion bill’s record funding for public transit like buses and subways, as well as for Amtrak. They framed the commitments as a way to bring greater equity to disadvantaged communities and address climate change.

Energy officials said the money to be doled out by that agency will create jobs while delivering cleaner electricity to more Americans.

“With the investments from the bipartisan infrastructure deal,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said, “we’re going to finally begin building an energy system that’s fit for the 21st century, with innovations that allow us to lead a global clean energy market.”

A bipartisan House vote last week sent the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk. The White House was central to the bill’s passage and Biden is expected to sign it, but it has not yet become law.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Energy and Transportation officials made no firm commitments on when money from the bill would flow to states. Funds from existing programs would come faster than from programs created by the bill, they said.

Officials from both agencies said more details would be worked out in the next six months.

“S​ome of it will go out sooner,” said Granholm, a former governor of Michigan. “Hopefully within the next six months you’ll start to see some activity, particularly with respect to roads and those formula dollars, and then some of it will be longer term.”

Climate change, equity

​​Transportation Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg highlighted portions of the bill that the administration hopes will fight climate change and improve equity in historically disadvantaged communities.

The $90 billion in funding for transit represented a record and would help both goals, Trottenberg said. The funding would allow transit agencies to swap out 10,000 fossil fuel-powered buses for those that run on battery electricity or other lower emissions fuels.

Transit also helps provide lower-income communities with access to jobs and services.

The level of funding would be “transformational” Trottenberg said, and would have major effects on systems outside the large cities where transit is readily available.

“As someone who’s worked on transit issues, a $90 billion investment in transit agencies is going to be transformational,” Trottenberg, a former New York City transportation official, said. “Those dollars are going to make a big difference in smaller and rural and tribal communities.”

Some line items in the bill include less funding than earlier proposals.

U.S. House sends $1.2T infrastructure bill to Biden for his signature

For example, the new Reconnecting Communities program meant to help reverse the effects of highways and other transportation projects that have isolated some neighborhoods will receive about $1 billion, down from $15 billion proposed in a bill earlier this year sponsored by U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md..

Transportation Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Christopher Coes and Transportation Deputy Undersecretary Carlos Monje said state and local transportation agencies could use other funding in the bill to meet the goals of the Reconnecting Communities program.

Other transportation items in the bill include:

  • $66 billion for Amtrak to address the maintenance backlog and create new passenger rail corridors.
  • $17 billion for ports and waterways. Officials hope that funding will help ease supply chain problems.
  • $25 billion for airports. Portions of the airport and port funding will be used to counter the effects of pollution and environmental degradation in nearby communities, Trottenberg said.
  • $13 billion for road safety, including a new $6 billion Safe Streets for All program within DOT that will focus on people who walk or bike.
  • Funding to renovate 10 of the nation’s most economically important bridges.
  • $7.5 billion to create a nationwide network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations. The Energy Department lists about 51,000 charging stations in use now.
  • $65 billion for upgraded energy transmission systems.

Clean energy projects

Other portions of the infrastructure package are aimed at bolstering a range of clean energy and energy-efficiency projects across the country, primarily through $62 billion that will be distributed to states, cities, tribes and others by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Granholm emphasized those projects — aimed at overhauling how the country produces, stores and transmits energy — would lower electricity costs, reduce pollution and create new opportunities for workers.

“We not only get a country using more and more clean energy, meaning less carbon pollution, obviously cheaper energy bills, cleaner air, better health outcomes, lower health care costs, particularly for low-income households, and especially within communities of color, but these investments are going to deliver jobs, jobs and more jobs,” she told reporters.

The legislation includes money to help train American workers for those jobs in new energy technologies.

As with the transportation funding, the energy dollars will be distributed through a mix of formula-driven funding, which administration officials said will give some certainty to states and localities on the amount of money they can expect to receive, as well as through competitive grant programs.

The energy section of the pending law includes:

  • $21.5 billion in funding for clean energy demonstrations and research hubs focused on carbon capture and clean hydrogen. It includes money specifically for projects in rural areas and economically hard-hit communities.
  • $11 billion in grants for states, tribes, and utilities to boost the resilience of electric infrastructure against extreme weather and cyberattacks.
  • $7 billion to improve the supply chain for batteries, including sourcing and recycling critical minerals.
  • $5 billion to replace thousands of diesel-powered school buses with electric buses.
  • $3.5 billion to reduce energy costs for low-income households through the Weatherization Assistance Program.
  • $750 million for a new grant program to support energy technology manufacturing projects in coal communities.
  • $500 million for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements at public school facilities.
  • $550 million in the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program and $500 million in the State Energy Program to provide grants to cities and states to develop and implement clean energy programs and projects.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter in the States Newsroom Washington bureau. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues as well as climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.

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Laura Olson
Laura Olson

Laura Olson covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.

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