WASHINGTON -- Three years after candidates from both parties made infrastructure a key presidential campaign issue, it’s finally the long-awaited “infrastructure week.” Democratic congressional leaders and the White House announced two weeks ago that they would commit $2 trillion to the cause. But a new report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group cautions that before allocating that money, our elected officials need to determine which investments will alleviate the most dire problems America faces as a result of crumbling or outdated infrastructure -- climate change, pollution and threats to public safety.
“Deciding how much to spend before deciding what to spend it on puts the cart before the horse,” said Andre Delattre, senior vice president for program at The Public Interest Network, which includes the three groups that wrote the report. “If Congress and the Trump administration avoid the temptation to spend indiscriminately and instead develop a bold new infrastructure vision, we have the opportunity to give our children and grandchildren a stronger, healthier and more sustainable future.”
Infrastructure touches virtually every aspect of American life, and is at the heart of our greatest challenges. From ensuring safe drinking water to tackling global warming emissions, updating the nation’s infrastructure policy is an opportunity to build a better world while using taxpayer money wisely.
“Any infrastructure package must move us away from reliance on dirty fossil fuels and closer to a society that avoids wasting energy and powers itself with clean, renewable energy ” said Rob Sargent, senior director of Environment America Research & Policy Center’s Clean Energy Program. “We should only build things that guarantee a healthier future, which means investing in energy conservation and clean, renewable sources of energy such as the sun and wind.”
The report recommends that federal decision-makers focus infrastructure investment in five key areas essential to protecting public health and addressing climate change: energy, water, natural infrastructure, solid waste and transportation. In each of these areas, the report calls on Congress to follow four basic principles:
Focus infrastructure investment on what matters, including ensuring access to safe water to drink and safe air to breathe;
Fix it first -- invest in repairing current infrastructure that is still useful before building big, expensive new projects;
Don’t invest in new infrastructure, such as fossil fuel pipelines, that will need to be abandoned before the end of its useful life; and
Get the most out of our current infrastructure by adapting what we already have to modern needs
“The infrastructure we build today will last for generations,” said Matt Casale, U.S. PIRG Education Fund Transportation Campaign director. “Done wrong, infrastructure can lock us into polluting vehicles and keep us stuck in gridlocked rush hour traffic, rather than fully embracing the benefits of bike-friendly, pedestrian-friendly streets. We need to focus investments on solving our transportation problems and not waste money on boondoggles -- such as new highway expansions -- that should be in our rearview mirror.”