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The US Infrastructure Bill Will Make Sustainable, Affordable Travel a Reality

by Tim Wenger Aug 6, 2021

This is the Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.

If you follow the news, you know that a major infrastructure bill is inching its way towards approval in the US Senate — following passage by the House of Representatives of its own version. If you want to travel sustainably, you’ll be thrilled about two seriously major developments in the finalized bill.

First, we need to point out that, climate-wise, a lot of the bill doesn’t address the cause of climate change. Rather, in addition to financing much-needed upgrades to US infrastructure, much of the bill funds projects that only address the effects of a warming planet. As The New York Times reports, it will pay for dredging along rivers susceptible to floods, grant billions of dollars to the US Forest Service for data-driven fire mitigation tactics, and fund the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s drive to develop prediction and prevention models of future flooding.

However, there are some key places where Biden’s climate and infrastructure agenda, which we’ve reported on, tackles the sources of climate change — namely, the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of the natural landscape.

For one, Amtrak, the nationwide passenger railway service provider, is expected to glean some $66 billion in new funding for maintenance, route upgrades, and development. That is huge news for the chronically underfunded railway. The bill also aims to change the legal mission of Amtrak to “meet the intercity passenger rail needs of the United States.”

Since its founding in 1971, Amtrak’s mission has simply been to “justify” its use of public tax dollars. Think of this as a paradigm shift in the mindset of a lackluster student. Rather than showing up to school with a “Cs get degrees,” mentality, Amtrak’s new mission is to secure an “A” across the board — with extra credit to push its efforts over the top. What we as traveling Americans stand to gain is more efficient and effective service from Amtrak. This will include more routes and hopefully, higher-speed trains in the near future.

The second win, if and when the bill becomes law, would hasten the nation’s transition to electric vehicles. The bill would allocate $7.5 billion for the deployment of 250,000 EV charging stations around the country, according to CleanTechnica. This could revolutionize US efforts deliver environmental justice to underserved communities — since more than 33 percent of Americans don’t have a garage or anywhere to charge an electric vehicle at their home.

Smart Cities Dive, reports on a pilot project underway in Kansas City to install EV chargers on light poles and in other conspicuous public places around the city. The goal is to provide charging access to those who cannot install a charger at home or anywhere else where their vehicle spends a lot of its time parked. Together with the charging stations funded by the infrastructure bill, adoption of this pilot by other cities would be huge.

One could certainly point out that a household that can’t afford an EV charging station certainly can’t afford a $70,000 Tesla. But the all-electric Nissan Leaf costs $27,000, and prices for electric vehicles continue to drop. As we’ve reported in this column, EV “gas stations” are coming and as their adoption becomes more widespread, The idea behind the Kansas City initiative is to get ahead of the curve, and to ensure that charging is available for those who need it, whenever they need it.

More climate wins

On the topic of government-funded climate initiatives, Canada’s federal government has announced it will invest $25 million Canadian dollars ($19 million) to boost the ability of wetlands and grasslands across the country to store carbon, Civil Eats reported. The plan will distribute the money to three major organizations to help them enhance the health and functionality of these habitats.

Rapid development in Dubai has made the city anything but friendly to environmental and humanitarian causes. But one developer is giving back with the creation of 500,000 square meters of coral reef. CNN reported that the developer of the Heart of Europe megaresort, among the swath of man-made islands known as “The World,” will fund the creation of the reef through fragmentation. Small pieces of coral, cut from larger pieces, will be monitored until they grow large enough to form a reef.

We close this week with a feel-good story of repurposing and recreation. Across the United States, more than 1,400 abandoned rail lines have been converted into hiking and biking trails, with the help of the organization Rails to Trails, Matador reported this week. The trails can be found in every US state. Your mission this weekend is to find the rail trail closest to you and plot your escape to its trailhead.

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