Building Back Better Starts Right Now

Photo by iStockphoto.com/RyanJLane

In late March, President Biden unveiled a major new infrastructure plan, the American Jobs Plan. According to the White House fact sheet, it “will invest in America in a way we have not invested since we built the interstate highways and won the Space Race.”

We need large-scale, transformational investments to address the multiple crises this country faces, including climate change, the daily, devastating impacts of racial and environmental injustice, and mass unemployment. It’s not enough to aim to return to a pre-pandemic normal that was unjust, unhealthy, and unstable for so many. As President Biden has called for, we must build back better by reorienting our economy around clean energy, care work, and uprooting racial and environmental injustice.

And we have a rare, precious opportunity to make that happen. The American Jobs Plan calls for the entire country to transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2035 — an essential part of getting us off the path to climate catastrophe. It proposes using that clean energy to power our cars, trucks, homes, and businesses. It would invest in the parts of our economy that need to grow — like public transit systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, and green technology research and manufacturing — and end incentives for those that need to shrink, like the fossil fuel industry.

This blueprint for building back better has equity and job creation at its core. Biden’s plan asks Congress to direct at least 40 percent of the benefits of climate and clean infrastructure investments to “disadvantaged communities,” including the environmental justice communities that are most exposed to pollution and climate disasters. It also calls for eliminating 100 percent of the lead pipes that contaminate water in communities like Flint, Michigan, and ensuring everyone in this country has access to clean water.

In Biden’s vision, every infrastructure project will be a climate project, with “every dollar spent on rebuilding our infrastructure … used to prevent, reduce, and withstand the impacts of the climate crisis.” And every infrastructure project will help create jobs that pay family-sustaining wages with access to unions. The American Jobs Plan rightly backs the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act that supports workers’ right to organize. To help chart a path to a more equitable economy, it also includes specific job-creation and training programs for women, people of color, young people, formerly incarcerated people, and for fossil fuel workers displaced from the industry during the transition to clean energy.

There’s a lot to be excited by in the American Jobs Plan. But what makes me most optimistic is that it builds on the path to a more just and sustainable future carved out by years of advocacy from Sierra Club members, supporters, and partners. This plan would not exist without everyone who has demanded bold solutions to the challenges our communities face.

Now we must turn our energy and people power toward two tasks. Congress is already working to translate Biden’s proposal into legislation. We must ensure that this legislation delivers an even bigger, more ambitious version of this vision — one as large as the crises we face. And then, of course, we have to make sure that it passes.

The Sierra Club’s recent report, “How to Build Back Better,” lays out the scale of the investment necessary to tackle our country’s crises. We are calling for an economic recovery package aligned with the THRIVE Act, which would invest $1 trillion a year for a decade to create over 15 million family-sustaining jobs — enough to end the unemployment crisis — while cutting climate pollution nearly in half by 2030 and countering structural injustice. This plan would invest in sectors across our economy, like clean manufacturing, clean energy and transportation, upgrading infrastructure and buildings, protecting our lands, regenerative agriculture, and care for children and the elderly, with at least half of the investments going to frontline communities. We are asking for all of the investments to include strong wage and benefit guarantees and access to unions, and equitable hiring that favors women and Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

We have no more time for limited, piecemeal action. We need big, bold plans that tackle our country’s crises at the scale required, like the one outlined by the THRIVE Act. Join me in asking Congress to build on Biden’s plan, and our movement’s momentum, and pass the legislation that will bring this country out of the depths of crisis — and into a future where everyone has the chance to thrive.

Dad, husband, executive director of the @sierraclub, writer, Jersey Shore native, Little League coach, #Yankees fan, climate hawk. Optimist. Love the Bay Area.