Secretary Buttigieg Testifies to Congress on Transportation Priorities

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

On Thursday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg testified at a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing, expressing the urgent ~$1 trillion need to invest in America’s roads, bridges, and highways that are crumbling in the face of climate change.

During the hearing, Buttigieg fielded questions from Congressional members on emissions policies and state partnerships and expressed optimism that his agency could effectively combat climate change and other challenges. “I believe we have – at this moment – the best chance in any of our lifetimes to make a generational investment in infrastructure that will help us meet our country’s most pressing challenges today and create a stronger future for decades to come,” he said.

Why This Matters: During the Trump administration, the former President promised legislators and the public that major, unspecified infrastructure changes were on their way. But the so-called “Infrastructure Week” never came to fruition and even became a running joke in Congress and the media. But now, the Biden administration is making new, specific commitments to infrastructure, including green energy infrastructure, public transportation improvements, and a nationwide electric vehicle charging network. The President has said that he believes the Department of Transportation is “at the intersection of some of our most ambitious plans to build back better” and hopes to use Secretary Buttigieg to drive a new era of social justice via transportation policy. 

Getting Down to Business

Now is the time to improve the air we breathe and tackle the climate crisis by moving the U.S. to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, building a national EV charging network, and investing in transit, transit-oriented development, sustainable aviation, and resilient infrastructure,” said Buttigieg in his opening testimony. He also pointed to repairing highways, roads, bridges, maritime ports, and airports; enhancing freight and passenger rail; and providing accessible public transit would be priorities in his administration.

Buttigieg emphasized the potential for large infrastructure projects to create jobs in regions suffering economic downturns due to COVID-19. He also promised to prioritize equity in not only new projects but in repairs and changes to existing infrastructure. “Now is the time to finally address major inequities—including those caused by highways that were built through Black and Brown communities, decades of disinvestment that left small towns and rural main streets stranded, and the disproportionate pollution burden from trucks, ports, and other facilities,” he said.

 

Key Moments: During questioning from lawmakers, Buttigieg was asked whether or not the Biden administration supported California’s plan to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars and trucks by 2035. The Secretary replied that he was unaware of any such considerations on the national or federal level, but acknowledged that similar plans from automakers indicated that it “certainly seems to be where the U.S. auto industry is headed.”

And America’s automakers have been supportive of the path the Secretary is forging for electric vehicles.

Ford Motor Company stated that “Our industry is at the beginning stages of an exciting, transformative process that will change the way America moves and competes on a global scale. We are confident Pete Buttigieg will work with us to support this new mobility era, which includes a more sustainable, connected and autonomous future.

Representative Anthony Brown (D-MD) questioned Buttigieg on the importance of having an abundance of transportation options aligned with the Biden-Harris administration’s goals to promote equity and combat climate change. Buttigieg replied, warning that too often, misguided investments can exacerbate issues of equity, or serve only as a temporary patch that becomes more expensive to fix as time goes on. “The more robust options individuals have, the more ways there are to get to where you’re going, the more freedom you have, to have excellent transit options available to you, the better off you’re going to be economically,” he said. “And that also helps us reduce emissions in neighborhoods, disproportionately communities of color, that have often had highways and other projects go through them with an increase in pollution that comes with it.”

Next Steps: The secretary testified as the Biden administration is in the preliminary stages of putting together a $3 trillion set of investments on infrastructure and other domestic policy priorities. When asked how the Biden administration plans to pay for the needed upgrades and investments in infrastructure, Buttigieg was a bit more vague, stating that the administration hopes to work with Congress to  “arrive at a healthy balance of how this can be at least partially paid for.”

 

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