(Bloomberg) — When the most significant climate law in US history, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), turned a year old in August, there was a slew of headlines marking the occasion. By contrast, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), another major Biden administration achievement, had its second birthday slip by more quietly last week.
Officially the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, the law provided $550 billion for improving roads and bridges as well as for carbon-saving measures like clean energy, mass transit and electric vehicle charging, and is expected to make its own dent in US emissions. To be sure, it’s not on the same scale as the IRA: Researchers at Princeton University’s REPEAT Lab estimated that while the BIL would cut annual CO2 equivalent by 100 million tons in 2030, compared to previous policies, the IRA would eliminate 10 times that.
But the infrastructure law has been made stronger by the passage of the IRA, and vice versa, since many of their provisions work in concert.
Chris Busch, the transportation program director at Energy Innovation, a San Francisco-based research firm, says the $5 billion provided in the law for EV charging will turn out to be its most impactful legacy. So far it’s been a bit slow rolling out, but that is changing. This past summer two states, Hawaii and Delaware, announced receiving federal grants to begin installing the stations. President Joe Biden wants the US to have 500,000 public chargers by 2030; as of earlier this year, there were about 140,000.
Another way the 2021 law is decarbonizing transportation is by replacing old diesel school buses. These emit double the amount of CO2 equivalent per mile as an electric school bus powered by today’s grid. The US Department of Transportation has taken three rounds of applications for new e-buses, said Sue Gander, director of the electric school bus initiative at the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit based in Washington, DC.
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The first round was supposed to distribute $500 million, but demand was so high that $1 billion went out. The overwhelming majority of both the grant applications — and therefore awards — were for electric (rather than propane or natural gas) buses, said Gander. About 2,400 buses have been approved so far, according to the White House. Many are already on the road. With the next funding rounds, “it’s going to stretch out to tens of thousands of buses,” Gander predicted.
The law isn’t limited to transportation infrastructure: It tackles energy infrastructure as well, with $4.7 billion to survey and cap orphaned oil and gas wells. There are 120,000 documented orphaned wells around the US, researchers at the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund and McGill University found, but the true number may be closer to 1 million. These can spew toxic gases, including methane, which is a highly potent greenhouse gas. But since it can cost $30,000 per well to effectively seal them up, many have been ignored, even though some 14 million Americans live in their vicinity.
So far remediation work has been done on 6,000 wells. With an average leakage rate per well of .016 metric tons a year, this has prevented roughly 96 million tons of methane from leaking into the atmosphere annually and contributing to global warming.
The BIL also dedicated $7.5 billion to climate resilience. Much of that money is being distributed to state, tribal and local communities by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA has already distributed $2 billion for projects such as new sewer and green stormwater infrastructure in Philadelphia and in Norfolk, Virginia, a system of surge barriers, tidal gates, pump stations and other features to reduce flooding.
About $3 billion in BIL funding for coastal resilience projects nationwide, allocated to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was bolstered by another $2.6 billion in the IRA.
But EV charging may be the best example of how the two laws are synergistic. The IRA, of course, provides subsidies for electric cars. But customers would still hesitate to buy them, and carmakers to manufacture and sell them, if they weren’t confident that the nation’s fledgling network of chargers would grow significantly, fast. Luckily, there’s the infrastructure law for that.
Just knowing that there is so much money to be deployed on charging has been enough to “boost automaker confidence in the future of the market,” said Busch, which in turn is “boosting their commitments.” While the IRA is often described as transformative, part of the reason why is the infrastructure law that preceded it.
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