Our nation’s capital is not a place known for its ability to get things done. Pick any problem debated in Washington, D.C., over the years and Congress has probably found a way not to act on it.
But after years of failed “infrastructure weeks,” both sides of the aisle came together in the U.S. Senate this past August to deliver the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Outside of the halls of Congress, most folks don’t spend too much time discussing infrastructure, but this tangible framework of our country — from sturdy roads and clean pipes — plays a critical role in maintaining public health and our environment. This important, truly bipartisan legislation features a major transportation, clean water and power infrastructure package that will have a big impact on Utah.
In particular, this bill makes a number of first-time and landmark investments to help improve Utah’s water quality. And we need it.
Utah is home to an estimated 23,000 lead pipes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said that no level of lead exposure is safe and that lead is particularly harmful to children. To combat this major health hazard, the bill invests a record $55 billion in the nation’s clean drinking water, the largest such investment in American history. That total includes significant funding for lead service line removal as well as money to address toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl), which are harmful chemicals that too often leach off of everyday products or make their way into our drinking water.
This package also helps with another pervasive, longstanding toxic problem: Superfund sites (America’s worst toxic sites). No one should have to live near a toxic waste site, and the Beehive State has 22 Superfund sites, with another three proposed for entry onto the Superfund list. The chemicals at these locations put those who live nearby in danger, increasing the risk of cancer, respiratory and heart disease, and other serious illnesses.
The bill earmarks $21 billion for environmental remediation nationwide, which is an unprecedented investment in cleaning up Superfund and other polluted sites. For those who live near Hill Air Force Base, Jacobs Smelter in Stockton, or the Ogden Defense Depot, this is a huge win.
Beyond those important public health provisions, this bill makes groundbreaking investments in electric vehicle infrastructure as well. Notably, it provides $7.5 billion for a nationwide electric vehicle charging network, which represents the federal government’s first investment in electric vehicle infrastructure. The bipartisan bill also delivers a guaranteed $5 billion for a national investment in electric school buses and low-emission buses, which will help school districts across our state to ditch diesel, cutting back on air pollution that contributes to climate change and puts our state’s 696,00 school children at increased risk for asthma and other serious health conditions.
These investments in the very fiber of Utah’s infrastructure are a strong first step. And, while we still have a long way to go to fully meet these challenges, we should not dismiss what this bill represents — a compromise that brings elected officials from both sides of the aisle together for the greater good. As has been the case since America’s earliest days, there is no challenge we cannot overcome if we find a way to work together.
The Senate did its part by voting 69-30 to send the bill over to the House of Representatives, which still needs to vote to pass the bill before President Joe Biden can sign it into law. Sen. Mitt Romney should be commended for his efforts to negotiate this package and get it across the finish line in the Senate.
The Utah members of the House should honor his efforts and continue America’s (and Utah’s) great tradition of reaching common ground by voting to send the bill to the president’s desk.
Sean Hoffmann is federal legislative advocate in the Washington Legislative Office of Environment America.