Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Q: What’s it all about?
A: The U.S. Senate passed a $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on Aug. 10 that, if passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, would represent the largest national effort to modernize the country’s infrastructure in decades. Most of the money comes from reauthorizing previously approved spending on existing public works programs and redirecting unspent pandemic relief money. But it also calls for about $550 billion in new spending on everything from roads, bridges and water projects to electric grid modernization, broadband development, climate change resilience and environmental remediation. It’s considered the first step in President Joe Biden’s plan to modernize national infrastructure to better compete in the global economy. At its core is a “clean energy revolution” that could fundamentally transform the country’s electric grid, the transportation system, industrial production and commercial and residential consumption away from fossil fuels to combat climate change, potentially creating a non-carbon economy in the U.S. by midcentury.
Q: What is the “reconciliation” bill?
A: Simultaneously with the infrastructure bill, the Biden administration is seeking congressional approval for a much larger, $3.5 trillion spending package that would significantly expand clean energy and climate-related investments while also pouring billions into social programs such as education, health care and anti-poverty efforts. On the energy front, the bill could potentially include:
• Up to $300 billion in tax incentives for new solar, wind and other clean energy investments.
• Payments to utilities that work to rapidly transition their grids to non-carbon generation – and fines for those that don’t – to reach 80% non-carbon generation by 2030.
• Import tariffs on products based on the carbon intensity of manufacturing them.
• Fines on oil and gas producers who leak greenhouse gases from production infrastructure.
• Consumer tax credits for electric vehicles, rebates for energy-efficient home products and appliances, and expanded low-income assistance to weatherize homes and upgrade energy systems.
On the social front, the bill could include things such as paid family and medical leave, subsidized child care, expansion of child tax credits, universal prekindergarten, tuition-free community college for up to two years, broadening of Medicare to cover things like dental and vision, and a reduction in prescription drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices.
Senate Democrats will seek to pass the bill through a process called reconciliation” which allows legislation to be approved with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes needed for other bills. Republicans criticize the reconciliation bill for excessive spending that would contribute to the federal deficit while relying on new taxes on the wealthy to pay for much of it. No Republicans are expected to support it in either the Senate or the House.
Q: What’s in it for New Mexico?
A: An initial White House analysis of state-level impact from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act shows that, if approved by the House and signed into law by Biden, New Mexico would receive nearly $4 billion in new money over the next five years just based on federal formula funding. That includes:
• $2.5 billion for highway programs, plus $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs.
• $366 million to improve public transportation.
• $38 million to expand electric vehicle charging stations.
• $100 million to improve broadband coverage statewide.
• $38 million to protect against wildfires, and $13 million to defend against cyberattacks.
• $355 million to improve water infrastructure.
• $90 million for airport-related development.
Those totals, however, are conservative, because New Mexico would also be able to compete for funding under various multibillion-dollar grant programs included in the act. That includes $12.5 billion in grant money for bridge investments, $16 billion for major projects that deliver substantial economic benefits to communities, $2.5 billion for electric vehicle charging infrastructure and $25 billion for clean energy demonstration projects.
Many New Mexicans can also benefit from $3.5 billion in new federal funding for home weatherization and energy-efficiency upgrades.
In addition, the reconciliation bill could bring far more investment to New Mexico if approved by Congress. But it’s still uncertain how much funding will actually be passed by Senate and House Democrats, who are now debating the contents of that bill. And approval likely won’t happen until the fall.