House Committee on Energy and Commerce Democrats on March 11, 2021, reintroduced a signature infrastructure package, the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow's America Act, or LIFT America Act (H.R. 1848) to modernize U.S. infrastructure, combat climate change, and protect public health and the environment. The bill comprises a $312 billion opening proposal for an infrastructure package that has been the subject of intense speculation since the beginning of the Trump Administration. While the LIFT America Act spans only a portion of Democrats' broader infrastructure priorities, its lack of bipartisan support suggests challenges lie ahead for the elusive package.
Seen as an area with potential to garner bipartisan support in an otherwise gridlocked Congress, infrastructure is politically popular. Yet partisan politics have foiled the package repeatedly over the last half-decade as both parties vie to use any momentum on the bill as a launch pad for competing priorities. Likewise, Republicans are generally more trepidatious than their counterparts about deficit spending, and the price tag associated with the package is a topic of contention. Ostensibly, the LIFT America Act faces these trappings. With Democrats now holding the upper hand for negotiations with control of both legislatures, this package admittedly has more promise than it did when it was first introduced in the 116th Congress.
Democratic leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), have indicated plans to use budget reconciliation – a limited but powerful tool that will allow Democrats to advance one more package of budget-related provisions this year without Republican support – to pass infrastructure priorities that fail to garner bipartisan support. Some provisions from the LIFT America Act could hitch a ride on this vehicle, though moving it through both chambers will be a challenge for Democratic leadership given the historically narrow margins in both the House and Senate. Other targets include proposals from a sweeping climate change measure (H.R. 1512) unveiled earlier this month by committee Democrats that aims to help the U.S. move toward net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
On the campaign trail, President Joe Biden touted infrastructure as an opportunity to pull the U.S. out of a pandemic-induced recession while mitigating the effects of climate change. Components of the LIFT America Act run parallel to energy and resiliency components of the president's Build Back Better campaign plan. The White House is expected to release a comprehensive proposal to enact the Build Back Better plan as soon as late April.
The LIFT America Act would invest more than $312 billion in clean energy, energy efficiency, drinking water, broadband and healthcare infrastructure. This Holland & Knight alert provides details on the act's contents.
Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency
The most notably expanded provisions in the LIFT America Act compared to its previous iteration introduced in the 116th Congress are in the clean energy title. The bill significantly increases spending, more than doubling the dollars to support clean energy and efficiency, while significantly increasing resources to support electric vehicle buildout. These programs are designed to work in tandem with the climate proposal released earlier this month, bulking up funding for programs across the U.S. Department of Energy, with a particular focus on those programs that support state and local governments and public buildings. The title includes:
- $69.9 billion for clean energy and energy efficiency, including $3.5 billion for electric grid infrastructure to accommodate more renewable energy and to make the grid more resilient, efficient and secure
- $20 billion to increase resiliency and efficiency at public and critical facilities
- $18 billion to help rapidly deploy new technologies aimed at reducing emissions
- $1 billion in grants for the installation of solar panels in low-income and underserved communities
- $250 million to support clean distributed energy
- $17.5 billion for energy efficiency and conservation block grants
- $6.5 billion for home energy efficiency retrofits
- $500 million for energy efficiency grants to public schools.
- $41.8 billion for the deployment of electric vehicle infrastructure, clean ports and smart communities
- $3.8 billion to reduce emissions at ports
- $650 million for electric school buses
- $500 million for rebates for light-duty electric vehicle charging infrastructure
- $12.5 billion to accelerate domestic manufacturing of batteries, power electronics and other technologies for use in plug-in vehicles
The LIFT America Act prioritizes safe drinking water and waste water infrastructure projects, addressing aging infrastructure and the need for support in disadvantaged communities. The title includes:
- $51.6 billion to protect Americans' drinking water by extending and increasing funding for the State Revolving Loan Fund and other safe water programs, and providing substantial new funding for the replacement of lead service lines that threaten public health
- $2.5 billion to establish a new grant program to help filter toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals, or forever chemicals, out of effected communities' water supplies.
- $2.7 billion for Brownfields restoration and reinvestment in communities where properties with hazardous substances or contaminants prevent their reuse; these funds provide critical money to states and municipalities to investigate and remediate affected properties, and in turn, facilitate job growth by returning valuable land to productive use
- $4.5 billion per year from fiscal year 2022-2026 to replace lead service lines with priority for replacing lines in disadvantaged and environmental justice communities
The LIFT America Act would invest almost $94 billion to expand access to broadband internet to underserved communities, reflecting an expansion of the bill's previous version introduced during the last Congress. Though investment in broadband infrastructure for underserved communities has long been a Democratic priority, the urgency of investment has increased as the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools, workplaces and healthcare to transition to remote contexts. The title includes:
- $80 billion for the 100 percent nationwide deployment of secure and resilient high-speed broadband to expand access nationwide by funding connections to the internet in unserved and underserved rural, suburban and urban areas
- $9.3 billion for broadband affordability and adoption
- $6 billion for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which provides a discount of up to $50 off the cost of monthly broadband service for eligible households, or up to $75 for households on tribal lands; it also authorizes $200 million to help states participate in the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier
- $2 billion for home internet connectivity for students, teachers and library patrons based on the FCC's E-rate authorities
- $5 billion in federal funding for low-interest financing of broadband deployment with a new program that would allow eligible entities to apply for secured loans, lines of credit or loan guarantees to finance broadband infrastructure build-out projects
- $15 billion in grants for the deployment and implementation of Next Generation 9-1-1 services across the country to protect American lives through more accessible, interoperable, effective and resilient 9-1-1 services that allow callers to send text messages, images or videos to 9-1-1 in times of emergency
- Establishes new grant programs, authorized at $1.3 billion total, at the Office of Internet
- Connectivity and Growth (OICG) within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)
- The State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program would aid states in digital equity and digital inclusion activities
- The State Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program would award grants to local entities, tribal governments, Alaska Native entities, Native Hawaiian organizations, nonprofits, anchor institutions, educational entities and workforce development programs for digital inclusion activities
- The bill also includes language prohibiting state governments from enforcing laws or regulations that inhibit local governments, public-private partnerships and cooperatives from delivering broadband service
The LIFT America Act represents an opportunity to address certain healthcare issues outside of typical healthcare vehicles, such as those that address reauthorization of certain Medicare programs, medical product user fee programs and others. The health provisions in the LIFT America Act are built upon those proposed in the Moving Forward Act(H.R. 2), the House Democrat-led infrastructure proposal that passed the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress. The title includes:
- $7 billion in investments for core public health infrastructure for state, local, tribal and territorial health departments and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in order to enhance workforce capacity, testing capacity, health information, disease surveillance and other critical core public health needs
- $10 billion in funding to reestablish the Hill-Burton hospital infrastructure program – a reference to the post-World War II, government-financed hospital construction program – for construction and modernization of hospitals and medical facilities; the legislation prioritizes awards for projects that include modernization for public health preparedness or protecting against cybersecurity threats in the health system
- $10 billion in funding for community health center capital project grants for the construction and modernization of community health centers
- $5 billion for the Indian Health Service for the planning, design, construction, modernization and renovation of hospitals and healthcare facilities to enhance tribal health facilities and reduce health disparities in tribal communities
- $4.5 billion to improve laboratory infrastructure for clinical laboratories working to improve SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 testing and response activities, including the expansion and enhancement of testing capacity at such laboratories
- $500 million for community-based care centers that address COVID-19 and other public health crises by supporting the improvement, renovation and modernization of the centers' infrastructure