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A lesson from Biden’s plan: If everything is infrastructure, nothing is

America needs targeted infrastructure improvements. The $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan is far too broad.

Vice President Kamala Harris listens as President Joe Biden speaks during an event on the American Jobs Plan in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Wednesday, April 7, 2021, in Washington. Biden recently introduced his American Jobs Plan, a proposal intended to revitalize American infrastructure and create jobs.
Evan Vucci, Associated Press

President Joe Biden recently introduced his American Jobs Plan, a proposal that supposedly focuses on revitalizing American infrastructure and creating jobs. While well-intended, the plan as it stands now is bloated and unfocused.

The term “infrastructure” has been up for debate since the American Jobs Plan was proposed by the Biden administration. Last week, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm argued that the term infrastructure is “not static” and “historically … what makes the economy move.” This may be true when we think about the development and necessity of the internet, for example, but it is counterproductive to expand infrastructure to its limits for political purposes. If everything is infrastructure, nothing is infrastructure.

Infrastructure, of course, is a critically important part of our country, and it’s embarrassingly outdated. When getting a C- on infrastructure from the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2021 is the highest we’ve scored in two decades, we’re in an especially bad place. Who could forget that Domino’s Pizza had to step in to fill in potholes when inept state and city governments could not. We need to update our infrastructure, but we need to do so in a focused way.

It is important to note that there are some very productive portions of the Biden plan. Green infrastructure, or the revitalization of ecosystems and planting trees to naturally sequester CO2, is a key, coalition-building component. Of course, updating our roads and bridges is crucial, as is the modernization of our electricity grid, the importance of which we saw in real time this February in Texas. These sort of provisions also have wide-ranging support from both Republicans and Democrats.

Conversely, portions on the “care economy” or the inclusion of the PRO Act in a proposal that is supposed to be infrastructure-focused only muddies the water. This isn’t to say that the care economy isn’t important to our country, but part of legislating is breaking down issues into tangible, actionable items that build bridges in the legislature for ultimate passage. If we’re focusing on infrastructure, we have to focus on infrastructure, defining it in such a way that is practical for legislative purposes.

There’s no question that the federal government has a role in updating our infrastructure, but this role should not be so large that we’re reinventing the concept of infrastructure in a policy proposal. We need to empower localities to be able to update their roads and bridges, expand electric vehicle infrastructure for a greener future, bolster their natural ecosystems to sequester carbon and protect their electricity grids from the effects of climate change. When local actors are involved, we’re more likely to get results because they understand their community and its unique needs.

Infrastructure should be a bipartisan endeavor, and it can be if we break down the Biden plan into pieces that build coalitions of legislators in support of common-sense solutions. As with all climate legislation, we shouldn’t be aiming to have the most pages in a piece of legislation or the highest price tag, but instead, the most targeted legislation and most tangible results.

Benji Backer is the president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition.