On March 31, President Joe Biden unveiled the United States’ most ambitious infrastructure investment plan in decades, designed to adapt the country to the new technological context and, above all, to meet the challenges it poses. This is a truly historic milestone — still awaiting approval by Congress and the Senate, which is not expected to be easy — because of its parallels with the great infrastructure plans of the 1950s and 1960s, which saw the construction of such iconic pillars of the US economy as the interstate highway system or the space program.
The plan intends to allocate some $2 trillion dollars to build a new economic approach that completely breaks with the policies of the last 40 years, based on tax cuts, deregulation, cuts in social benefits and strong control of monetary policy, and instead will see huge investment aimed at completely modernizing the country, based on a much wider understanding of the term and that includes the human infrastructure necessary to carry out these changes.
The new paradigm, dubbed Bidenomics, includes everything from classic infrastructure such as roads, airports, trains, public transport or electric vehicles, along with water supply, connectivity, electricity networks, renovation and construction of sustainable housing and education, to care for the elderly and the disabled, as well as research and development or retraining the workforce.
A central part of the plan includes the transition to clean energy and the progressive abandonment of fossil fuels over the next 15 years, setting ambitious targets that will require electricity utilities to meet very specific targets for wind and solar power, which will increase over time, to reach an energy mix based entirely on renewables by 2035, in what would be the largest federal intervention in the electricity sector in recent generations.
In addition, the plan means removing polluting vehicles from the roads by setting emissions targets so low that very few vehicles with internal combustion engines will be able to meet them, which would see them steadily withdrawn from circulation each year. Together with the progressive reduction of emissions from energy production and possible plans to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Biden wants the United States to be among world leaders in reducing its emissions, as well as technologies such as batteries, clean energy or electric vehicles.
The plan is also intended to condemn to oblivion all the outdated myths about changing the energy paradigm: change is not only possible, it is essential. Electric vehicles have long been a solution that allows for widespread use even when traveling on the basis of an adequate recharging network, and the modernization of generation infrastructures can be carried out without compromising supply when weather conditions change (although detractors tried to build a false narrative around the recent supply problems in Texas, which had nothing to do with renewables and could be repeated in other states).
We are talking about a huge change for a country that decidedly needs to update infrastructure built at a time before concerns about climate change. The funding of the ambitious proposal will be carried out by increasing corporate tax, partially rolling back Donald Trump’s tax cuts that took rates down to 21% from 35% in 2017 and placing the general rate at 28%, a change that a company like Amazon, usually singled out for its tax policies, has supported. In addition, inheritance taxes will be raised, and the level of debt, which many consider worrying, will also rise. But as we know, it is not the level of debt that is worrying, but what countries are able to obtain in exchange for that debt.
In practice, this is technical debt applied to a country to address the unbearable cost of not responding in terms of infrastructure to the huge changes that have taken place in recent decades. The ambitious plan has yet to win the approval of Congress and the Senate, which will mean not just convincing a few Republicans, but also many doubting Democrats. It won’t be easy.
The good news is that we have a US president who understands the priorities, who is not an ignoramus who confuses weather with climate, and who is prepared to step up to meet the challenge. As Michael Regan, the new administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, rightly says, “science is back.” Let’s hope that common sense returns as well.