The challenges ahead of our country in these days and weeks following Earth Day 2021 are no less alarming than those on the first Earth Day in 1970. That was when President Richard Nixon put forth a groundbreaking plan to address pollution and create the Environmental Protection Agency. In the years that followed, Congress passed, with bipartisan support, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.
Today, we know carbon emissions must be curbed to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Expensive infrastructure projects have gone unfunded or underfunded for too long, resulting in crumbling pipes, roads, and bridges. As if that wasn’t enough, the impacts of the global pandemic have left many Minnesotans out of work and our economy sluggish.
This trifecta has created a watershed moment, one the Biden-Harris administration is tackling head-on with the announcement of its American Jobs Plan.
Congress has been presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a more equitable and just future using strategies to help our communities recover and prosper by creating millions of good-paying union jobs, updating our country’s infrastructure, and putting us on a path to 100% clean energy. The administration’s plan would amplify and reinforce the past and present work of the Minnesota Legislature and governor’s office, from the bipartisan Next Generation Energy Act that made Minnesota an early leader in clean energy to Gov. Tim Walz’s plan to put Minnesota on a path to carbon-free energy by 2040.
Minnesota is already familiar with energy-conservation investments, thanks in part to our state’s Conservation Improvement Program. Additional federal investments would continue to bolster Minnesota’s clean-energy jobs sector. The proposed plan would invest well over $1 billion in electric vehicles, including promoting strong labor and training standards. This investment would go handily with a state bill to incentivize electric-vehicle purchases, truly putting Minnesota on a path to reduce pollution from our transportation sector.
To ensure we can meet the energy needs of the future, we will need to build a more resilient energy transmission system and expand clean-energy tax incentives, investing in local businesses, union employees, and local government. All future incentives for clean energy must include strong labor standards, including prevailing wages, incentives for local hiring, registered apprenticeships, and provisions to prevent worker misclassification. President Joe Biden’s proposal should address all of this while ensuring we’re transitioning to 100% clean energy across our electricity, transportation, and building sectors.
Potentially overlooked, but no less important, is our need to invest in water infrastructure. All Minnesota families deserve access to clean, safe drinking water, yet this is not current reality. Replacing lead pipe and service lines is a known need and an expensive proposition, one the Minnesota Legislature has been trying to fund for years (Our View: “Finally, attention on long-neglected water needs,” April 12).
Included in Biden’s plan is full funding of all lead replacements, addressing the issue once and for all. Money for upgrades and modernization wouldn’t be limited to our drinking-water infrastructure. Wastewater and stormwater systems would receive funding, too, providing an influx of union jobs across the state while preparing us for the climate resiliency we’ll need as we face unpredictable and extreme weather events. Again, these jobs should include prevailing wages and incentives for hiring within affected communities.
Unlike Nixon’s plan, which called for regulations on industries to address the pollution problems of the 1960s and 1970s, Biden’s plan is rooted in the philosophy that jobs and the environment can and should work in concert — and not in opposition — with one another. To truly take advantage of this moment, finding collective solutions is the only way to succeed. We encourage Congress to work with the Biden-Harris administration to harness the power of this unique moment in history.
Dan Olson of Duluth is international liaison and business manager for Local 1091 of LIUNA, or the Laborers' International Union of North America. Paul Austin of Minneapolis is executive director of the nonprofit Conservation Minnesota Voter Center (cmvotercenter.org).