One Year Later: GCC reflects on the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

November 15, 2022

This article was originally posted as a Twitter thread @Climate_Center.

Today marks one year since President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Implementation of the 5-year package remains an important factor for future greenhouse gas emissions scenarios related to transportation (read GCC's analysis). In other words, how BIL money is spent could help accelerate progress on reducing GHG emissions from transportation, or it could result in more pollution than no change in policy. 

From GCC's 2021 analysis: "In the above chart, both scenarios are compared to a “Baseline GHG” scenario — the dashed line in the chart — which projects a decline in GHG emissions through 2032. This baseline assumes that the Biden Administration’s proposed Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards for Model Years 2024-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks are fully implemented, and that current battery cost trends continue to improve the affordability of electric vehicles.

For the high-emission scenario — the red line on this chart — the first few years begin with additional emission reductions compared to the baseline, but by 2026, emissions start to trend upward relative to the baseline. This is driven by investments in highway expansion and the effect of induced demand, which becomes even more pronounced over time.

In contrast, the low-emission scenario — the blue line on this chart — could cut emissions by 1.6% below the baseline within just 5 years. This may not sound like much, but it’s roughly equivalent to the annual emissions from 4.5 million passenger vehicles. It also underscores how hard it is to move the needle for transportation-sector emissions." For context, see the full analysis.

It’s too soon to say where we’ll land between these scenarios – only a small portion of nearly $600 billion in five-year transportation funding has been committed to specific projects – but a look at federal and state actions so far is encouraging. 

States are key decisionmakers for most transportation funding in BIL. Many have already started to implement climate-minded investment programs and frameworks to cut transportation emissions and meet their ambitious GHG reduction goals. In California, implementation of SB 743 has demonstrated a novel framework to evaluate environmental impacts, requiring agencies to consider effects on vehicle miles traveled attributable to transportation projects. In December 2021, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) adopted a GHG standard for planning, requiring future transportation projects to reduce GHG emissions. CDOT has since canceled two planned highway expansions in favor of additional investments in transit. All 50 states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico have developed federally-approved EV infrastructure deployment plans to take advantage of $5 billion in BIL funding for a national network of public charging stations.

The Biden Administration is also taking steps to help reduce emissions from transportation investments. For example, the U.S. DOT Federal Highway Administration proposed a rule to measure GHG emissions from national highways, with support from DOTs from across the country.

The Biden Administration is also taking steps to use BIL to advance equity and justice. This April, U.S. DOT released its Equity Action Plan and has posted dozens of Justice40 programs that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is charged with implementing.

To help inform future policies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency just awarded 132 grants for community-based air quality monitoring projects, which are partnerships between state and local governments, academics, NGOs, businesses and communities overburdened by pollution. And, 6 state DOTs made a pledge for equity in infrastructure, so that underserved people and communities have more opportunities to win contracts for BIL transportation investments. The Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary sees this as a “historic moment."

But GHGs from transportation have rebounded from mid-pandemic lows. Using BIL to cut emissions will take action by every level of government; more states will need to make climate-minded transportation policies and investment decisions. The next 12 months of BIL implementation will be crucial for determining how hundreds of billions of transportation dollars will be spent over the next four years, and beyond. We’ll be watching closely.

For more information and tools related to implementation of BIL, check out GCC's infrastructure webpage.

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