In the past few days, the tone of conversation about next year’s stimulus package has shifted away from long term “green” investments to “shovel ready” projects – initiatives that are ready to begin as soon as the funding is there. Most of these are infrastructure projects that states have already approved, permitted, and have contractors lined up and ready to start on. These typically involve bridge maintenance and the repaving of highways.
While it’s true that the economy needs a major shot in the arm, it’s paramount that we don’t trade speed for smarts. According to the Associated Press, the stimulus package may have grown from $600 billion to over $1 trillion over the course of the next two years. This package creates a historic opportunity to not only put people back to work, but to also start tackling the energy and climate challenges of the next decade.
Here are four areas in which Congress and the Obama Administration could work together to get “shovel ready” projects out the door that will also help promote “green” jobs and lower greenhouse gas emissions:
1) Give community and mass transit projects priority over more traditional highway projects. There are already dozens of existing light rail and bus rapid transit projects in the pipeline around the country that are permitted, contracted, and just awaiting funding. In King County, WA, where Seattle is located, bus ridership has increased every month for the past 18 months. Now is the time to build or repave roadways to create the bus lane and mass rapid transit options that will not only provide jobs, but will shorten people’s travel commutes, increase productivity, and lower carbon emissions by getting people out of single occupancy vehicles.
2) Target “next generation” infrastructure needs such as energy transmission lines and corridors that are needed to bring solar and wind to the grid. One of the major impediments in a rapid expansion of these two industry sectors is the lack of transmission capacity, since both are typically located in remote areas of the southwest for solar, and the plain states for wind. In fact, more investors like T. Boone Pickens would be getting into these industries if we could support his multi-billion dollar wind investment in Texas with enhanced transmission.
3) Add bike lanes, “sharrows” and bike shoulders when repaving city streets. There is no doubt that cities across the U.S. are facing major budget shortfalls, and their backlog of road repaving projects is growing by the month. Even so, if stimulus money is to go toward the support of these projects then it should be targeted towards road projects that are also increasing bicycle capacity.
4) Lastly, there are thousands of buildings that could be weatherized and made more energy efficient right away. These projects would utilize today’s existing workforce, supplemented by newly trained green collar workers bent on helping our businesses and homes save money and reduce GHG emissions.
Inauguration Day is less than one month away, but already we are starting to see our incoming political leadership backtrack from smart, long-term green investments to the traditional road projects of previous transportation packages. The options laid out above make common sense and should remain a priority in this stimulus package because not only will they meet the goal of job creation, but will also enable us to support our growing “green” infrastructure and help our nation begin to tackle climate change.
Kevin Wilhelm is CEO of Sustainable Business Consulting.