Infrastructure Bill Provides Important Environmental Provisions, But Leaves More Work To Do

We will continue to work with Congress to strive for environmental justice and a zero-carbon future, filling in the gaps left by this important first step.

The Senate has just voted on a landmark bipartisan infrastructure bill, which includes tens of billions of dollars for climate, energy, and environmental programs. Despite leaving out many of the more ambitious plans proposed by the White House in its American Jobs Plan, the bill represents an important step towards building a more sustainable America, with particular strides being made on behalf of clean energy and resilience. 

Infrastructure programs that invest in a national clean energy grid and natural climate solutions, also provide critical co-benefits like cleaner air and water. By investing in environmental resilience and a net-zero carbon future, we can help states and communities protect themselves from the costly and destructive consequences of a warming climate while building regenerative, efficient, and reliable infrastructure. As we know from our recent Survival by Degrees and Natural Climate Solutions reports, what’s good for birds is good for climate and people, and bolstering our natural and clean-energy infrastructure will ensure a livable planet for birds and humans alike. In this critical moment, passing the bipartisan infrastructure package is a necessary step toward tackling both the causes of and the consequences resulting from climate change. 


Clean energy investment and grid modernization represent some of the most robust sections of the infrastructure package. The bipartisan deal currently allocates $16.3 billion to the Department of Energy to use towards energy efficiency and renewable energy, with specific funds set aside for the continued development of battery storage technology. Another $21.5 billion will be used to establish a new Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations within the Energy Department to research carbon capture, hydrogen power ($8 billion), resilient and adaptable electric grids ($6 billion), and other technologies to help us reach 100% clean energy by 2035. These advanced energy demonstrations will support near-term job growth while spurring innovative and cost-saving technologies and solutions within the electric sector. These investments will help bring accessible and widespread renewable energy to market at scale more quickly. 

To support grid modernization, the package will also invest significantly in battery storage, the so-called “holy grail” of clean energy that will provide backup for variable renewable generation. The package will distribute $3 billion over five years for demonstration projects on the processing of battery materials and the construction and retrofitting of processing facilities, as well as an additional $3 billion for grants for similar activities relating to manufacturing and recycling batteries to reduce the life cycle environmental impacts of battery components. 

Natural Climate Solutions and Environmental Resiliency

Natural carbon drawdown and environmental resilience are as important as reducing emissions. Environmental resiliency provisions in the infrastructure package will extend funding and aid for ecosystem restoration, wildfire mitigation, flood insurance, and cleaning up orphaned wells and abandoned mines. Specifically, the package offers $2.13 billion over five years to the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture for ecosystem restoration, $1 billion for Great Lakes restoration, and $3.37 billion for wildfire mitigation. In our recent report on Natural Climate Solutions, we found that priority ecosystems can deliver up to 23 percent of the U.S. commitment to draw down greenhouse-gas emissions, with forests storing more total carbon than any other ecosystem. Provisions that help fund ecosystem restoration such as these support our national climate goals while delivering additional ecosystem services like temperature regulation, and water and air filtration to the communities who live in and steward these natural spaces. 


The infrastructure package allocates $6.42 billion over five years to reduce carbon emissions in the transportation industry, an important goal with transportation responsible for almost 30% of total national carbon emissions. Importantly for wildlife, surface transportation grants will require wildlife crossings for eligibility. Additionally, states will receive $6 billion for building electric vehicle charging infrastructure and creating a data-sharing network to streamline construction and adoption. These measures set an important precedent for how to integrate zero-carbon infrastructure with migratory bird and habitat conservation.

While the climate action proposed in this infrastructure package is important, we must also recognize that there is more to be done. Not included in the bill, for example, are a national Clean Energy Standard, extensions of tax credits for renewables and electric vehicles, or significant investments in voluntary, private-land conservation programs. The bill also does not go far enough in its environmental justice initiatives to ensure the benefits of these investments are equitably distributed. In the coming months, we will continue to work with Congress to strive for environmental justice and a zero-carbon future, filling in the gaps left by this important first step.