Moving Forward with Infrastructure Climate Solutions

Congressional leaders unveiled a transformative vision of moving America and the environment forward by investing in 21st century infrastructure.

The Moving Forward Framework outlines a five-year plan for bold investment in transportation and water infrastructure. The plan shows how the upcoming transportation reauthorization bill and Water Resources Development Act can help us address our climate crisis and prepare for the more extreme weather events we are already experiencing.

The plan makes a significant investment in a clean energy future, electric grid modernization, and energy efficient retrofits of housing and buildings. In addition to brownfield redevelopment that could help communities fix up abandoned and contaminated properties for new use, it creates a new program to promote renewable energy projects on brownfield sites.

The framework creates a pathway for a more just climate future by addressing issues related to access, affordability, workforce development and advancing economic opportunity in rural, urban, and tribal America. The plan helps improve the quality of life for Americans and proposes to offer more local control over federal funding.

Investment in Climate Smart Transportation Options and Better Planning for a more Resilient Future

The transportation sector has become the largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and local air pollution that harms Americans public health and quality of life.

The Moving Forward Framework prioritizes investment in climate smart transportation options such as transit and zero pollution options including safer cycling and walking networks. It updates existing formula programs and transportation planning requirements to consider connections to jobs, housing, and the creation of transportation options for underserved communities. It also focuses on reducing congestion for drivers, prioritizing transportation access for all users of the system, and improving the frequency of transit service for bus riders. The plan proposes to target transportation highway funding for communities, tribes, rural, and continually disadvantaged areas.

The plan seeks to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and curb tailpipe pollution that threatens communities by funding elective vehicle charging stations along designated highway corridors. It will incentivize transportation projects to reduce carbon pollution and promote cleaner air quality in communities near freight corridors. It includes funding for zero emission buses that will reduce carbon pollution and ease congestion by providing people with quality transit options.

It makes resiliency a key decision-making factor in the Federal highway planning and project selection process. It will require states to measure greenhouse gas pollution. Transportation sector GHG reductions. It also proposes to expand research dollars for emerging construction techniques and materials that reduce carbon pollution.

Commits Funding for Clean Water Infrastructure, Improved Affordability, and Water Efficiency

Climate change exacerbates the challenges of aging water infrastructure and adds new challenges caused by extreme weather, decreased water quality, water shortages due to drought or flooding, increased water treatment requirements and costs, and higher energy demand for treatment plants.

This plan offers significant funding for clean water infrastructure that could provide more certainty for our future in a changing climate and address the critical backlog of state and local needs to replace pipes, upgrade water and wastewater facilities, and modernize systems to address water quality and quantity.

The costs of maintaining and improving water infrastructure have become increasingly difficult for communities to afford. The need to generate more revenue and address the challenges has led to higher water rates for users, with water costs rising more than twice the rate of inflation over the last two decades. The plan would require more Clean Water State Revolving Funds (SRF) assistance in the form of grants rather than loans to address the affordability challenge, specifically prioritizing economically disadvantaged, small, and rural communities. It also directs the EPA Administrator to identify ways to address the challenge through enhanced technical assistance. Through other pending legislation, Congress has an opportunity to further address the challenge by establishing a program or pilot that supports affordability of water and sewer bills at the household level, which is a necessary complement to providing infrastructure funding at the community level.

It would promote water-efficiency practices by wastewater utilities. The collection, distribution, and treatment of drinking water and wastewater nationwide consume tremendous amounts of energy. Water efficiency saves energy and reduces global warming through water use strategies. The plan encourages wastewater utilities to adopt water- and energy-efficient practices in connection with new infrastructure investments, directing funding recipients to maximize the use of these practices and setting aside funds to help them do so.

It encourages states to implement nature-based solutions to address local water quality challenges. Nature-based solutions offer a wide range of social, economic, and environmental benefits to combat the impact of climate change.

The framework makes critical regional investment to protect drinking-water sources. It prevents the discharge of “forever chemicals” into the nation’s rivers and streams with new safeguards and provides a significant investment of  $1 billion in new Federal assistance to help communities address ongoing contamination of our waterways.

Nearly one in four Americans’ drinking water comes from untested or contaminated systems. In addition, there is a two-tiered drinking water system that Congress needs to address. Rural America and communities of color are most at risk from contaminated drinking water, stormwater and wastewater overflows, and increased risks of flooding. The Framework invests in protecting America’s drinking water, proposes to fund school lead testing, community water systems risk and resiliency grants. Congress can also improve access to safe drinking water by addressing the affordability of drinking water, similar to the clean water affordability proposals in the plan.

Clean Energy Future

Under the plan there would be new investments in electric grid modernization, the development of an electric vehicle charging network to facilitate the transition to zero emissions vehicles from coast to coast and retrofitting and weatherizing buildings. It also, establishes a pilot program to promote energy efficient water distribution systems. It creates a grant programs for distributed energy systems and solar installations in low-income and underserved communities. It provides technical assistance and competitive grants for clean energy solutions in development and redevelopment efforts. It also funds technical assistance to be provided by the National Labs to cities and towns looking to deploy smart community infrastructure.

Given the gravity of the climate crisis, infrastructure spending should reduce carbon emissions, bolster climate resilience, and leverage green finance mechanisms to accelerate the shift to a greener economy.

The Framework plan would provide financial tools, taxable bonds, and tax credits as a down payment on America’s transportation system with Build America Bonds that should be expanded to other sectors, such as water and buildings. It could be a great catalyst for green bond investment. It also makes an investment in green energy and new market tax credits. Congress should ensure that these much-needed public infrastructure investments and all federal funding, considers the future impacts of climate change.

Our team at NRDC has outlined 21st Century Infrastructure Solutions that could transition the nation to cleaner sources of energy, address the challenges imposed by a changing climate on our communities, create jobs, and redress the negative legacy of past investments. The Moving Forward Framework may be the solution. Overall, it’s a comprehensive approach for Moving America Forward and seeing the details through legislation will be critical.

About the Authors

Stephanie Gidigbi

Director of Policy & Partnerships, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.