To Realize Our ReImagined Appalachia, We MUST Pass the Build Back Better Act—Here’s Why
by Stephen Herzenberg and Jessica Arriens
Action Update: The infrastructure bill has now passed the House and is headed to President Biden’s desk – but we must get Build Back Better through the Senate and the House. Please click here to take action to help Appalachia build back better!
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (commonly known as the bipartisan infrastructure framework, or BIF) passed the U.S. House late last Friday night and will become law as soon as President Biden signs it. A written promise from five House Democratic moderates to ultimately vote for the second part of President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda—the Build Back Better Act (BBBA)—cleared the way for the BIF vote. (Before the BBBA House vote, the Congressional Budget Office will estimate the cost of the current version of BBBA; if the CBO estimate lines up with that of the White House, the moderates will vote for the current BBBA; if the CBO estimate doesn’t line up, there will be a further modification of the bill.)
The bipartisan infrastructure bill is a major achievement. It will make Appalachia’s and America’s economies stronger and cleaner, while creating millions of good jobs. But transforming our region and country—and realizing a ReImagined Appalachia—requires also passing the BBBA.
Since the BBBA would be the largest climate investment in U.S. history, it can be overwhelming trying to unpack the details. After a refresher on some key elements of the bipartisan bill, this blog breaks down the climate and jobs parts of the BBB Act, highlighting overlap with the ReImagine Appalachia priorities and vision. Taken together, these two bills contain every major element of ReImagine Appalachia’s Appalachian Climate Infrastructure Plan. For those who want more information, see this 7-page summary of the BBBA, or check out the 2,135-page bill.
The BIF and BBBA are big, bold, and vital to the future of our country. Further, the climate infrastructure portions of the BBBA—the focus here—AND the human infrastructure parts of the bill will both save money in the long run: the first because of the cost of insufficient and delayed action on climate; the second because of the payoff to investing in children, families, accessible and affordable health care, and education.
What is included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act?
The climate jobs parts of the bipartisan framework include:
Repairing the Damage
$21 billion to clean up abandoned mine lands (AML), plug orphaned oil and gas wells that leak methane and harm wildlife, and clean up toxic Superfund sites. Much of these federal investments will come to WV, PA, OH, and KY. For example, our states have two-thirds of unreclaimed US abandoned mine lands—and should receive about $7.5 billion of the $11.3 billion in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for AML reclamation. To learn more about our Repairing the Damage priorities that made it into this bill, you can also see this blog.
$65 billion to expand access to broadband, including in rural areas. Since most of our region has subpar broadband, we should receive a large share of these funds too.
Modernizing the Grid
Upgrades to the electrical grid and transmission system to prepare for new wind and solar energy, and also for smart metering and electric vehicles.
Creation of a new energy efficiency revolving loan fund for homes and businesses.
For more on what’s in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, see this earlier RA blog and also this one that highlights environmental cleanup priorities in the package that will create tens of thousands of jobs in our region, many in unionized trades. Or check out President Biden’s statement on the passage of the bill and the White House Fact Sheet on the BIF.
What is included in the Build Back Better Act?
While the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes a bevy of much-needed investments in Appalachia’s lands and communities, the bill alone is not enough to tackle our climate crisis and economic crisis. That’s why the Build Back Better Act is also essential: together, these bills can make the kind of transformative investments in climate solutions, job creation, environmental justice, and more that we need to build a 21st century Appalachia. Here’s what’s in the current (November 3) version of the BBBA.
Revitalization of the Civilian Conservation Corps (also known as the Civilian Climate Corps)
A revived CCC built up from existing national service programs will put over 300,000 Americans and many Appalachians—some returning citizens—to work planting trees, conserving and restoring our public lands, and making communities more resilient to climate impacts. These investments will also provide education, training, and career pathways for a diverse workforce, including into apprenticeship and careers as unionized trades.
Clean Manufacturing Tax Credits Targeting Coal Country
Supporting a climate-smart, clean energy future requires growing clean and efficient manufacturing—so we can build the parts required for renewable energy projects, and for other green products like electric vehicles, right here in the United States. The Build Back Better Act includes a tax credit, called 48C, to spark investment by companies in manufacturing facilities that produce clean energy technologies. To access the tax credit, the manufacturing project must have both climate and local job benefits, including in low-income and environmental justice communities. The bill sets aside a portion of the tax credits for communities where coal mines have closed or where coal-fired power plants have recently retired. The BBBA also includes investments in the decarbonization and revitalization of existing manufacturing like steel, cement, and aluminum, through grants, loans, tax credits, and procurement.
Maximizing Good Union Jobs
The BBBA’s climate infrastructure investments would create millions of jobs, disproportionately in unionized trades and in manufacturing. More of the jobs would be good union jobs in part because of strong labor standards linked with clean energy tax credits (see below). Fossil fuel workers would be a priority for jobs created by BBBA funding—allowing many of these workers to go from their old union job to a new union job. BBBA would also ensure that everyone has access to these jobs, regardless of race and ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status.
Building a Sustainable Transportation System
The transportation sector generates a huge share of greenhouse gas emissions, so investing in cleaner, more sustainable transportation is crucial to fighting climate change. The BBBA includes major investments to help regions plan for high-speed rail corridors and to support enhanced mobility for low-income populations, and people living in disadvantaged and impoverished communities — through projects that expand public transportation, and make it more affordable. The bill incentivizes states to reduce harmful carbon emissions in their own transportation sectors, including via a grant program that will reward states that make major progress towards reducing emissions. The bill’s investments in cleaner transit, buses, and trucks — paired with its investments in tax credits for electric vehicles — will help reduce climate pollution, while cleaning up our air and will even help save consumers money. The refundable EV tax credits would make the total cost to own an electric vehicle as much as 16 percent less expensive than the average gas vehicle.
Modernizing the Electric Grid
To modernize the grid and enable reliable delivery of renewable energy, the BBBA provides tax credits and other subsidies for constructing and installing high-capacity transmission lines and for energy storage facilities.
Broadband Access and Affordability
To complement the bipartisan bill’s funds for more universal high-quality broadband, the BBBA includes investments to expand broadband access and affordability, including through public-private partnerships in urban and other low-income communities. The BBBA also includes funding for outreach and public education to ensure communities know about—and take advantage of—broadband affordability programs.
Investment in Job-Creating Climate Resilience and Carbon Absorption
The Build Back Better Act includes funding to conserve and restore our forests and coasts—crucial investments that will harness the power of nature to absorb carbon, and make communities more resilient to the worsening effects of climate change. Improvements to flood insurance and stormwater and wastewater management funding would protect those impacted by the increasing threat of flooding in our region. The bill also includes a major investment in climate-smart agriculture, via support for conservation programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will help farmers across the United States, and in Appalachia, adopt practices that capture more carbon.
Extension of Benefits for Coal Miners With Black Lung
A four-year extension of the Black Lung Excise Tax, which provides funding for healthcare and benefits for coal miners who have contracted this deadly, and increasingly widespread, disease, as well as modest benefits for the survivors of those who have passed from Black Lung. This extension is one essential component of policies we need to make sure that a transition to a clean economy does that impose large costs on coal workers and families, many of whom are in Appalachia.
Incentives to Grow Clean Energy–With Strong Labor Standards–and Energy Efficiency
The Build Back Better Act includes major investments in clean energy tax credits that are crucial to achieving our climate goals. These investments are good for the climate, for communities, and for our economy. They include tax credits for expanded deployment of solar, wind, and other clean energy sources of power, and for electric vehicles. Plus, for companies to receive full tax credit value, they must meet strong labor standards (i.e., pay prevailing wages and utilize apprentices as 10% of the workforce, phasing up to 15%)—helping ensure the millions of jobs that these investments would create are family-sustaining ones.
The clean energy tax credits will help cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions an estimated 45-51 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. These and other provisions of BBBA will also cut families’ average household energy costs by an estimated $500 per year.
The bill also includes a new Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which would invest $27 billion into clean energy and energy efficiency projects that would otherwise have difficulty being financed. Forty percent of the funding is directed at low-income and environmental justice communities. Part of another $19 billion will decrease emissions and energy costs in factories through advanced technology.
Targeted Investment for Energy Communities That Have Lost Jobs
The BBBA invests in economic development and job creation in energy and industrial transition communities—which will include many places throughout Appalachia. These investments include billions for the Economic Development Administration to create regional innovation hubs in energy and industrial transition communities. They also include a new Energy Community Reinvestment Financing Program at the Department of Energy, which would make low-carbon reinvestments in energy communities. This program could pay for everything from education and training for workers affected by the energy transition to cleaning-up energy industry environmental damage and brownfields (like coal mines).
Invests in “Train and Place”—to Help Coal and Other Workers Get Good New Jobs
BBBA would provide training to dislocated energy workers, and a diverse next generation, to access good, new family-supporting jobs, including through youth apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs linked with apprenticeships in unionized trades and in manufacturing. Aligning training with targeted investment in energy communities and other job-creation (in renewables, repairing the damage, clean manufacturing, sustainable transportation, etc.) will make it possible for more training to lead to placement in a good new union job.
Support for Local Wealth Creation in Rural Areas, Small Businesses, and Farmers
BBBA supports rural development and invests $16 billion to help rural electric cooperatives, rural businesses, and farmers transition to clean energy, increase energy efficiency, and improve biofuel infrastructure and market access. It also provides $5 billion for Small Business Administration programs to increase access to capital, foster entrepreneurial development, expand federal procurement opportunities, and drive innovation. Coal-country Appalachia could leverage these resources to build on our region’s bottom-up local wealth creation movement.
It’s time to invest in Appalachia and #PassTheDangBill!