Invest in Manufacturing and Infrastructure Now to Build Back Better and Cleaner

by Jason Walsh

Late last month, President Biden unveiled the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, aiming to provide much-needed investments in our schools, roads, drinking-water infrastructure, broadband access, electric grid, the care economy, and more. But what comes next is critically important for the long-term recovery of our nation and the nearly 10 million people in America who are still suffering from unemployment and need high-quality jobs. Those investments will also spur our nation’s efforts to address the three intersecting crises we face that long predate the COVID-10 pandemic: economic inequality, racial injustice, and climate change.

We need to ensure that all workers in our nation—regardless of where they live or the color of their skin—have access to local jobs with fair wages, benefits, and safe working conditions. Repairing and modernizing our infrastructure systems and rebuilding and retooling America’s manufacturing sector must be immediate, impactful, and—most importantly—sizable. The American Jobs Plan’s proposed investment level is a critical first step, but more is needed to rebuild, retool, and repower our nation. For example, the American Jobs Plan proposes $111 billion for water infrastructure by 2030, but that is just a fraction of the investment the American Society of Civil Engineers says is needed—$434 billion by 2029.

The investments we make today in infrastructure, manufacturing, and the care economy will speed up the fundamental transformation we need to create good-paying, union jobs where they are needed the most. Whether that is small towns suffering from the loss of good jobs due to plant closures, or communities of color and fence-line communities in our cities that bear the brunt of pollution. And those investments must be broad and include the care economy, because—just like roads and bridges—transit, and broadband are needed for people to get to and do their jobs and provide for their families and caregiving is essential infrastructure.

If we are to build back better, it must include reviving an economy for the most vulnerable communities and workers impacted by the energy transition and giving power back to workers. Legislation like the PRO Act, which expands labor protections for employees’ rights to organize and collectively bargain and is included in the president’s plan, would significantly benefit workers across industries.

We should not and cannot choose between good-paying jobs and a cleaner future. Repairing and updating our infrastructure—which graded out at only a “C-“ in the latest report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers—will reduce energy and water waste and result in lower emissions and less pollution.

Similarly, modernizing American manufacturing to produce materials and goods in lower carbon, less polluting ways is vital to the competitiveness of our manufacturers, enabling them to make the clean technologies needed here and around the world, where the market for renewable energy alone is expected to reach $3.4 trillion globally in 2030. It will create and keep good jobs here in the U.S. and reduce emissions in a sector that generates 23% of America’s greenhouse gases. But these investments in workers must be made now to help in the short and long term and ensure that the United States is the global leader in the clean economy. Building back better and investing in jobs here at home will protect our air and water and reduce the emissions driving climate change.

Where we procure the steel we will use in everything from offshore turbines to bridges matters in terms of its environmental impact. Steel made in the U.S. is cleaner. A report from Global Efficiency Intelligence found that the U.S. ranked fourth in the world in terms of carbon dioxide intensity in its steel production, but competitors like German and China ranked worse—8th and 13th respectively.

COVID-19 showed just how fragile the current economy is for millions of working people. Too few workers actually had good-paying jobs even before the pandemic and many, if not most, workers in America are living paycheck to paycheck. We need action now from Congress to make an immediate investment of sufficient scale to build back better in a way that helps all workers now and lays the foundation for a clean, thriving, and equitable economy for generations to come. 


Jason Walsh is the executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, which unites labor unions and environmental organizations to solve today’s environmental challenges in ways that create and maintain quality jobs and build a clean, thriving, and equitable economy. 


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