California Congressional Delegation Must Push for Equity in the Infrastructure Bill

At long last, infrastructure legislation based on President Biden’s American Jobs Plan is moving forward in Congress. This represents a historic opportunity.

Too many Americans are suffering from the devastating effects of structural racism, decades of systemic disinvestment, and climate change. If we have learned anything from COVID, it is that one’s economic security is inextricably linked to the environment, health, and access to economic opportunity.

Credit: Chris Yakimov via Flickr

The bipartisan infrastructure bill is a solid start, but falls short of bold action to address the existential threats of climate crisis and pervasive racial injustice. The final legislation must incorporate racial equity into the design and implementation of the bill to be successful. Simultaneously, the proposed $3.5 trillion framework is an opportunity to bolster investments in social infrastructure and addressing climate change. Lawmakers can look to the innovative approaches pioneered across California to see how they can address long-standing racial inequities and fight against global climate change. ​​

As The Greenlining Institute noted in our letter to legislators, infrastructure investments can build stronger, healthier, more prosperous communities by emphasizing anti-racist and community-driven solutions. Here’s how:

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  • Climate Mitigation, Adaptation, and Resilience. To build community resilience in response to climate change, we must actively include impacted communities in the design and implementation of solutions. Stockton has invested significant resources to develop climate action plans that bring green investments and address pressing, local environmental concerns, while allowing communities to determine the path forward. Programs like the Transformative Climate Communities and Regional Climate Collaboratives show that by marrying community leadership with technical capacity, we can form enduring partnerships that combat racial equity, address climate resilience needs, and provide access to economic opportunity.
  • Just and Equitable Transition from Fossil Fuels. Data from CalEnviroScreen show the uneven burden communities of color experience of higher rates of pollution inside and outside of their homes from fossil fuel appliances and closer proximity to power plants because of housing discrimination, and its economic impact. The American Jobs Plan can invest in fossil fuel-free technologies like building electrification to reduce health impacts and cost burden, extend access to affordable fossil fuel-free energy, and provide good jobs. 
  • Clean Mobility and Vehicle Electrification. Undoing the legacy of policies like highway construction that segregated communities of color and expanded our reliance on personal vehicles require solutions that explicitly address race. California’s Sustainable Transportation Equity Project funds communities to make comprehensive investments in transit, mobility, vehicle electrification, and infrastructure. By incentivizing walking, biking, public transit, and shared transportation, we reduce emissions, improve mobility, reduce traffic, and create economic opportunity for communities of color. 
  • Quality and Affordable Broadband. Greenlining’s research identifies that formerly-redlined neighborhoods are the same neighborhoods that now suffer from limited access to affordable technology and internet services. California’s $6 billion in investment towards open-access middle-mile fiber networks, municipal broadband and last mile infrastructure provides a blueprint for the rest of the country to address the digital divide and establish a sustainable path for long term wealth building that internet access affords. The significant broadband investment included in the current bipartisan infrastructure legislation represents a solid start.

Congress must take this once-in-a-generation opportunity to foster economic prosperity, fight climate change, and advance racial equity. Only by facing the historic legacy of injustice with boldness and equity-centered solutions can we ensure that race is never a barrier to opportunity.

Debra-GoreMann-Greenlining-CEO

Debra Gore-Mann is the President and CEO of The Greenlining Institute.