Assessing Biden’s “Green Infrastructure” plan from a climate perspectiveMay 3, 20213 min read
In a virtual climate summit attended by leaders from all over the globe, President Biden announced plans for the US to cut carbon emissions by as much as 52% by the year 2030. This commitment was outlined in what the Biden administration is calling a “green infrastructure” bill, one that has echoes of the Obama-era “green new deal.” Dr. Samantha Chapman, biology professor at Villanova University and Co-Director of the Center for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Stewardship, broke down the pros and cons of the bill with KYW’s Matt Leon.
According to Dr. Chapman, the bill addresses what she identifies as the two major strategies for mitigating the negative effects of our warming planet: “preventing more climate change and adapting to climate change.”
Dr. Chapman considers that the strength of the bill lies in what she and Matt Leon refer to as “base hits” rather than the “home run” structure of the Green New Deal, meaning that Biden’s plan relies on smaller, easily achievable goals—like incentivizing a switch to a more sustainable type of cement for building bridges—rather than sweeping reform in an effort to get the bill passed.
Among the successes, Dr. Chapman calls the improvement of the power grid, which would support the manufacturing of electric cars and ease our nation’s reliance on fossil fuels, “one of the biggest things in the bill.” Dr. Chapman also notes that she is hopeful about the installation of broadband in remote areas allowing for wider internet access and investing in energy efficient affordable housing and job training to support communities who rely on their fossil fuel industries. “You can’t just shut these people’s livelihoods down and say 'ok good luck' or just give them a payout. People want to have jobs that fulfill them,” says Chapman.
This direction—focusing on infrastructure with climate and equity at the center of the conversation, is in line with the Biden campaign’s slogan to “Build Back Better.” Dr. Chapman points out that this bill creates an opportunity to focus on the word “better” by reevaluating the definition of infrastructure itself. “What is infrastructure?” Dr. Chapman asks. “Is clean air infrastructure? Is clean water infrastructure? We know that natural infrastructures [feedback systems like our waterways and forests]-- and we still have a lot of them in the US thankfully-- give us a buffer against climate change.”
As a climate scientist specializing in coastal ecosystems, Dr. Chapman told Leon hopes to see an emphasis in these types of natural infrastructures. “I think that salt marshes and mangroves are really important in buffering our coast against big storms, so I want to see explicitly that we are going restore these places. It would be good for biodiversity, it would be good for people hanging out and kayaking, and it would help us protect against these big storms that are coming weather or not we cap our emissions. I think I would like to see more of these green barriers along our coast rather than big seawalls, and I haven’t seen that exactly yet, but again the fine print’s not there,” she points out. “The bill’s not done.”
Finally, Dr. Chapman spoke to the benefits of this infrastructure bill could have on the future of the country if it is passed and adhered to. “I think there’s still work to do on things like forests and biodiversity, there’s always more work to do. I think it would be a massive step in the right direction. And then we’d have to go to the rest of the world and start doing some work there.”
Samantha Chapman, PhD Professor of Biology | College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Samantha Chapman, PhD is an Associate Professor with expertise in global change in coastal ecosystems and invasive plant species.