On July 22, 2021, Fred Wagner was quoted in Law360 on transportation policy developments to watch in the latter half of 2021, including infrastructure investment and the Biden administration’s focus on environmental justice.
According to the article, the tentative $1.2 trillion deal that Biden reached in June with a bipartisan group of senators on a once-in-a-generation infrastructure investment proposal is still mired in negotiations. Senate Republicans recently blocked a procedural vote put forth by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to start debate on the bill, which is still in the works and is yet to be seen, but lawmakers spearheading the talks say they'll iron out the finer points of the so-called Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework by early next week. At the same time, the House of Representatives forged ahead on a regular-order bill reauthorizing highway, transit, rail, and vehicle safety programs ahead of an upcoming fall deadline to replace the expiring Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act.
Overall, the buzz around the House surface transportation and Senate infrastructure investment bills shows that there have been good faith efforts by both Republicans and Democrats to try to move forward with negotiations, but "all sides are punting somewhat on how these bills are going to be paid for — pushing that question down the road," said Wagner.
The Biden administration is also prioritizing environmental justice, or ensuring that environmental and health impacts are reduced on low-income communities and communities of color that have traditionally been overburdened.
"The environmental justice goals being pursued by the Biden administration are truly transformative because they go to the very question of what we should be doing, not just how we should be doing it," Wagner said. "For years, it's been a matter of how. It's been a check on demographic data, like where are we building this thing and who lives there? What the administration is trying to promote here is to not just be aware, but let's pick the projects — based on some set of criteria — where the overall effect is to benefit those communities. That's a transformative way of looking at this whole issue."
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