How Biden’s $2T Infrastructure Plan Will Impact Central Appalachia

President Joe Biden speaks about the economy in the State Dinning Room of the White House, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in Washington. Photo: Alex Brandon/AP
President Joe Biden speaks about the economy in the State Dinning Room of the White House, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in Washington. Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

The article was originally published by the Ohio Valley ReSource.

President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan contains tens of billions of dollars to address environmental and economic issues throughout the Ohio Valley region, according to details released Wednesday by the White House.

Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, had promised a major infrastructure initiative, but one never got traction during his four years in office.

Speaking in Pittsburgh Wednesday, Biden called his plan the largest jobs investment since World War II. 

“It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago.”

The plan includes $16 billion to plug thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells and reclaim hundreds of coal mines. The administration says the effort would create thousands of union jobs in communities hurt by the decline of fossil fuel production.

An “orphan” well on William Suan’s property leaks decades after being abandoned. Photo: Brittany Patterson/Ohio Valley ReSource

Biden proposes a $40 billion program to retrain dislocated workers for jobs in growing sectors such as clean energy, manufacturing and caregiving.

The plan includes more than $100 billion in grants and loans to improve water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure and eliminate all lead pipes and service lines that supply drinking water. That could help rural communities in the region with aging water systems, such as eastern Kentucky’s Martin County, which has struggled to maintain its water system

At Water Treatment Plant 0112171513b
Martin County relies on a water treatment plant that was built in 1968. Photo: Benny Becker/Ohio Valley ReSource

Comparing high-speed internet to electricity 100 years ago, Biden’s plan proposes $100 billion to bring reliable broadband to rural areas and tribal lands.

A $17 billion investment in ports and inland waterways could help improve infrastructure for commerce on the Ohio River and other navigable rivers in the region.

The plan commits $50 billion to improving the resilience of infrastructure to the effects of climate change, including floods and wildfires.

The plan calls for a massive modernization of the nation’s electric power grid and encourages clean energy generation and storage. It would establish 10 demonstration projects to capture and store carbon emissions from industries such as steel, chemicals and cement.

It would remediate and redevelop former energy and industrial sites and promote economic development through the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER grant program.

As with traditional infrastructure bills in past administrations, Biden’s invests heavily in roads, bridges and transit systems.

Republicans said the plan didn’t spend enough on infrastructure and criticized the tax increases that would pay for it. It also didn’t sit well with lawmakers from fossil fuel producing states.

“The proposal would aggressively drive down the use of traditional energy resources and eliminate good-paying jobs in West Virginia and across the country,” said Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “Perhaps worst of all, it would burden the American economy with tax increases as our country attempts to recover from economic hardship.” 

The $2 trillion plan relies on an increase in the corporate tax rate and faces uncertain prospects in a closely divided Congress. Infrastructure is one issue that can typically get bipartisan support.

“Unfortunately,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, “the latest liberal wish-list the White House has decided to label ‘infrastructure’ is a major missed opportunity.”

Biden’s plan also calls to eliminate billions of dollars in tax preferences for fossil fuel producers. The president has set a goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

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