Enforcement and Inspection

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and the EPA

After much negotiation and whittling away at President Joseph Biden Jr.’s initial $2 trillion plan, Biden signed the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill into law on November 6, 2021.

“[T]he bipartisan agreement is a much-needed victory for the president — in part because, in the administration’s view, it commits the country to its largest-ever environmental justice investment,” according to Grist. “Although Biden’s initial infrastructure spending vision was touted for the ways it could help mitigate climate change, the bill signed on Monday focuses heavily on conventional transportation infrastructure: Bridges, roads, ports, and airports would all see substantial investment. Nevertheless, according to the White House, roughly $240 billion is expected to be spent advancing environmental justice, a pillar of Biden’s campaign platform.”

The bill allocates $55 billion to update drinking water systems; $21 billion in cleanup funds for historically polluted sites, capping orphaned oil and gas wells, and reclaiming abandoned mining lands; $25 billion for airport repairs and upgrades; $17 billion for port infrastructure repairs and updates; $66 billion to update and expand public transit and railways; and more than $50 billion for climate change mitigation.

Environmental justice

The question becomes how precisely the bill will be utilized to advance Biden’s environmental justice goals.

“To address those questions, the White House has developed an environmental justice framework called Justice40,” reports Bloomberg. “It commits the federal government to directing 40% of climate and clean energy investments into communities impacted by environmental injustice. The initiative aims at redressing legacy problems such as disproportionate pollution exposure and climate impact risks in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods.

“It currently targets programs such as the Department of Homeland Security’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, and the Department of Transportation’s Bus Facilities Infrastructure Investment Program, among several dozen other federal programs designed to maximize environmental justice benefits.”

In an interview with Bloomberg CityLab, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said he has directed all EPA offices “to prioritize and focus on environmental justice, whether that be through our regulatory process, our policies or our enforcement.  And yes, the resources that we will get from this bipartisan infrastructure deal as it relates to investing in clean drinking water, as well as looking at the resources that will be remediating legacy pollution, like in our Superfund sites and brownfield sites, will have a focus on environmental justice and equity as we deploy these resources.”

Industry takeaways

With so much federally appropriated funds for Superfund and brownfield sites; new technology; new jobs; and infrastructure system updates and expansions for roads, transportation, broadband, ports, and drinking water supplies, there are abundant opportunities for a variety of industries to capitalize on this funding. Smart industry operators will work now to position their organizations as solutions providers by offering long-overdue innovative answers to these challenges.

On the downside, with $23 billion earmarked for clean water initiatives, $10 billion for addressing various forms of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and $100 million on pollution prevention, it seems likely that more regulations to curb perceived harmful activities will be forthcoming.