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UCLA community members examine potential impacts of federal infrastructure law

(Stephanie Ko/Daily Bruin)

By Jessica Gonzalez and Jalyn Wu

Nov. 28, 2021 1:12 p.m.

Members of the UCLA community said the recently-passed federal infrastructure law will affect the sustainability practices of the nation by providing necessary funding to aging infrastructure.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure spending bill into law Nov. 15. The law previously passed in the Senate in August and later passed in the House of Representatives in November. The law pulls funds from remaining COVID-19 relief aid and unemployment insurance aid.

The federal investment includes $110 billion to repair roads and bridges, $39 billion to improve accessibility of public transportation, $65 billion to upgrade electric grids, and an additional $65 billion to invest in internet and broadband over the next five years. Additionally, the law allocates funds to increase the use of electric modes of transportation, with $7.5 billion being invested in electric car charging stations and another $5 billion being used to transition school buses into electric vehicles.

The Biden administration also projected that in the coming decade, the law will generate millions of jobs annually in the workforce, generating more union employment and promoting sustainable practices including an increase in electric vehicle usage.

Kathryn Gonzalez-Valle, an alumnus and UCLA California Public Interest Research Group campus organizer, said the law takes steps toward fighting climate change through allocating funding for wildfire prevention and electric transportation infrastructure.

“I think that this bipartisan infrastructure bill will just make a lot of greatly needed progress toward just taking our country into the future,” she said.

UCLA Chief Sustainability Officer Nurit Katz said it is imperative that infrastructure investments uphold the three pillars of sustainability – environment, economics and equity.

“That equity piece is often not paid attention to,” Katz said. “And one of the things I like about this Build Back Better kind of framework is that it does include environmental justice.”

The law is expected to invest in environmental justice by designating 40% of the profits from investments in clean energy to disadvantaged communities through facilitating investment in clean and affordable energy, strengthening unions, and funding grants for environmental justice communities in the United States, according to a White House press release.

Brian Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy, said California’s investment in infrastructure in the past has primarily focused on building new infrastructure and has neglected maintaining existing infrastructure such as sewage systems, roads and bridges.

A Pew Research Center study released in April found that about 1 in 3 American adults surveyed find the condition of roads and bridges in the country to be a large problem, while about 4 in 10 found the condition of infrastructure to be a somewhat large problem.

Taylor added that some people have claimed the law’s funding for public transportation will help more students and low-income communities. However, he said he does not believe it is automatically universally beneficial to these communities because not all students or low-income individuals use public transportation.

Stephanie Pincetl, a professor of environment and sustainability, said the new infrastructure law is not enough to completely address the problems facing American infrastructure today.

She said she believes the law is not truly unprecedented, but rather that people are not used to seeing infrastructure investments. Pincetl added the government should provide more generous funding, considering the larger sums spent on other sectors of the economy and the military.

“What we actually need is a Congress that is willing to spend taxpayer money on taxpayers and an investment for the nation’s future,” Pincetl said.

However, Gonzalez-Valle added, the changes necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change require stronger legislation.

“I think especially here in California, we just need to be bolder if we want to stop the worst impacts of climate change,” Gonzalez-Valle said.

In terms of UCLA’s sustainability practices, Katz said she believes the campus should continue to transition away from fossil fuels by investing in renewable energy infrastructure around campus such as solar panels to help the university move toward carbon neutrality.

“It’s really imperative that we invest in infrastructure toward a sustainable and resilient future,” Katz said.

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Jessica Gonzalez
Gonzalez is a national news and higher education contributor. She is a first-year transfer student at UCLA majoring in political science and minoring in Chicana/o and Central American studies.
Gonzalez is a national news and higher education contributor. She is a first-year transfer student at UCLA majoring in political science and minoring in Chicana/o and Central American studies.
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