Trump v. Biden: Infrastructure

Cozen O'Connor

Cozen O'Connor

In an election year marked by twin public-health and economic crises and contentious, high-stakes debates on Capitol Hill and the campaign trail, the two presidential candidates offer starkly contrasting positions on several issues, including their plans for improving the nation’s infrastructure.


In July 2020, Joe Biden released an updated plan “To Build a Modern, Sustainable Infrastructure and an Equitable Clean Energy Future.” Revising and expanding upon his initial $1.3 trillion/10-year infrastructure plan that was released in November 2019, the new proposal increases investment to $2 trillion over four years, with the goal of executing the funds during his first term in office. Biden’s plan focuses on building a more resilient, sustainable economy that achieves net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, reinvigorates and modernizes numerous economic sectors, creates union jobs, and facilitates opportunities among disadvantaged populations and communities. In addition to roads, bridges, electrical grids, broadband, and transit, the proposal seeks to invest in and modernize the American auto industry supply chains, the power sector, buildings and housing, clean energy innovation, agriculture and conservation, and environmental justice.  


During his 2016 campaign and since taking office, President Trump has often stated his desire to pass wide ranging infrastructure legislation. In February 2018, the White House released its “Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America,” the president’s most comprehensive and detailed infrastructure proposal to date. The 2018 proposal sought to leverage $200 billion in federal funds into $1.5 trillion of infrastructure investments over a 10-year period using a mix of federal and private funds, and state and local tax dollars. In April 2019, Trump and Congressional Democratic leaders briefly agreed to a comprehensive infrastructure plan that would result in $2 trillion in infrastructure investment. However, after an outline had been developed, Trump withdrew from negotiations and the proposal stalled.

Nearly a year later, in the midst of COVID-19 relief discussions, President Trump once again floated the idea of a “very big and bold” $2 trillion infrastructure Phase 4 bill. However, the legislation did not materialize. In June 2020, the Trump administration sought to develop a $1 trillion infrastructure proposal, primarily within the Department of Transportation. The proposal centered on traditional infrastructure such as roads and bridges, as well as 5G deployment and rural broadband. However, the proposal never moved forward due in part to divisions among senior administration officials.

The 2020 Trump campaign also has not yet released a detailed infrastructure plan, but briefly references bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States, creating “the world’s greatest infrastructure system,” and winning “the race to 5G” in its agenda that released in late August. That said, the aborted 2018 infrastructure plan provides the most detailed insight into the administration’s approach to infrastructure, and serves as a counterpoint to former Vice President Biden’s proposals.



Topline numbers:

  • $2 trillion over four years, with a plan to deploy these resources over his first term to meet climate change, jobs, and infrastructure needs.

Build a modern infrastructure, including significant investments in rebuilding roads, bridges, water systems, electricity grids, and  transit systems.

Position the U.S. auto industry to win in the 21st century.

Achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.

Make dramatic investments in energy efficiency in buildings.

Pursue historic investment in clean energy innovation.

Advance sustainable agriculture and conservation.

Secure environmental justice and equitable economy opportunity.


Topline numbers:

  • (2018 proposal) $200 billion of federal funds, with goal of leveraging $1.5 trillion of infrastructure investment over 10 years.

Infrastructure Incentives Program

  • $100 billion towards creating a competitive grant program for projects involving state, local, and private sector investment.

Rural Infrastructure Program

  • $50 billion to allocate to states and create a rural block grant program for transportation, broadband, water, power, and electric infrastructure.

Transformative Projects

  • $20 billion in federal funding for projects that are considered bold, innovative, and transformative, but risky for private investment.

Infrastructure Permitting Improvement

  • Create a new, expedited structure for environmental reviews that delegates more decision making to states, enhances coordination, and authorizes pilot programs.

Transformational Projects


Biden’s 2019 proposal included a 10-year, $40 billion Transformational Projects Fund to provide significant discretionary grants for projects too large and complex to be funded through existing infrastructure programs.

This proposal, however, was not included in Biden’s July 2020 updated infrastructure plan. Rather, in the updated plan, Biden proposed $2 trillion of infrastructure investment over four-years, while not mentioning a specified Transformational Projects Fund.


The 2018 proposal would provide $20 billion to advance transformative projects.

Transformative projects are defined as projects that would significantly improve performance (i.e. safety, reliability, frequency, and service speed), substantially reduce user costs for services, introduce new types of services, and improve services based on other related metrics, but may not attract private sector investment.

Funding would be available at different levels to help cover different life cycle costs including demonstration, planning, and capital construction.

Community Development/Environmental Justice


Would work to address race and class disparities in access to clean air, water, broadband connectivity, transportation, jobs, and education. Biden would ensure jobs created by federal investments are filled by diverse, local, well-trained workers including women and people of color:

  • Would prioritize Project Labor and Community Workforce Agreements and employ workers trained in apprenticeship programs.
  • Would ensure infrastructure investments and clean energy investments create millions of middle-class jobs and develop a diverse and local workforce.

Clean up and redevelop abandoned and underused Brownfield properties, old power plants and industrial facilities, landfills, abandoned mines, and other idle community assets.

Expand infrastructure, such as universal broadband, that creates innovation and shared economic progress and opportunity to every community.

Scale up best practices from state-level clean energy standards that implement renewable credits to developers that follow high labor standards such as through Project Labor and Community Labor Agreements and pay prevailing wages.

Bolster community resilience through a Civilian Climate Corps, which puts union jobs within reach of more Americans, including women and people of color, to work on conserving public lands.

Equitable opportunity and environmental justice initiatives including:

  • Setting a goal that disadvantaged communities receive 40 percent of overall benefits of spending in the areas of clean energy and energy efficiency deployment; clean transit and transportation; affordable and sustainable housing; training and workforce development; and development of clean water infrastructure.
  • Creating a data-driven Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool to identify and enable investments in disadvantaged communities, including those threatened by stresses of climate change, economic distress, racial inequality, and multi-source pollution.
  • Ensure that the Biden administration prioritizes environmental justice issues and holds polluters accountable.


Of the $200 billion in proposed federal funds, $100 billion would be used to create an incentives program to spur additional dedicated funds from states, localities, and the private sector.

Applications for the incentives program will be evaluated on objective criteria, with spurring additional infrastructure investment being the largest factor. Federal funding would be conditional on projects meeting agreed upon milestones.

Funding awarded to state and local authorities through the incentives program and Rural Infrastructure Program would be allocated to infrastructure projects prioritized by the states and localities. Additionally, the proposed plan expands the environmental review and permitting decisions that would be delegated to states.



Would create 1 million new jobs in auto manufacturing, auto supply chains, and auto infrastructure, with a choice to join a union and strong labor standards. Plan includes:

  • Using federal procurement to increase demand for American-made, American-sourced clean vehicles and accelerate the upgrade of 3 million vehicles in these fleets.
  • Encourage consumers and manufacturers to go clean by providing consumer rebates to swap less-efficient vehicles for newer American vehicles.
  • Make major public investments in automobile infrastructure, including in 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations.
  • Accelerate battery technology research and support the development of domestic production capabilities.
  • Set goal that new American-built buses be zero-emissions and all 500,000 existing buses be converted to zero emissions by 2030.
  • Establish ambitious fuel economy standards that save consumers money and cut air pollution.


Would seek to close infrastructure gaps in development-ready areas to attract manufacturing. Additionally, Trump’s plan would reform federal education and workforce development programs, including making short-term programs that provide students with a certification or credential in an in-demand field eligible for Pell Grants.

Trump would also reform the Perkins Career and Technical Education Program to increase access to technical education, and target federal work-study funds to help students obtain workplace experience, including through apprenticeships.

President Trump’s 2020 campaign agenda seeks to create 10 million jobs in 10 months and bring 1 million manufacturing jobs from China to the United States.

Additionally, the agenda would grant tax credits to companies that bring jobs from China to the United States, and specifically allow 100 percent expensing deductions for industries like pharmaceuticals and robotics that bring their manufacturing to the United States.



Biden would take advantage of existing rights-of-way along roads and railways, and cut red-tape to promote faster and easier permitting. 


In 2020, the Trump administration revised rules regarding the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in order to speed the federal permitting process for infrastructure projects.

Under the final rule, deadlines of two years are required for Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and one year for Environmental Assessments (EA), and the rule eliminates the need for agencies to analyze a project’s indirect or “cumulative” effects on the environment, requiring them instead to analyze “reasonably foreseeable” impacts.

The definition of “major federal actions” is narrowed to exclude actions with minimal federal funding or involvement, and other specified categories. Project proponents will be allowed to prepare their own EIS, and the rule also seeks to streamline processes and more closely involve state, tribal, and local governments.   



Transit investments would provide every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options through flexible federal investments with strong labor protections. Investments would range from light rail networks to improving existing transit and bus lines, to installing pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.

Biden’s transportation infrastructure investments would include the following:

  • Transformational investments in roads and bridges, rail, aviation, ports, and inland waterways. This includes transforming fuel sources to include electricity and clean fuels for trains, buses, ferries, and passenger vehicles.
  • Catalyzing a second great railroad revolution to ensure the cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world for passengers and freight. Funding would include existing federal grant and loan programs, and he would streamline the loan process.
  • Would allocate flexible federal investments with strong labor protections to help cities and towns install light rail networks and improve existing transit and bus lines to ensure that all municipalities of over 100,000 people have quality public transportation by 2030. Would ensure that fast growing communities are designed and built with clean and resilient public transit in mind, including a new program that provides resources to build in public transit options from the start.


Transportation financing would include the following: providing states tolling flexibility; extending the streamlined passenger facility charge process from non-hub airports to small hub airports; providing states flexibility to commercialize interstate rest areas; and, expanding qualified credit assistance and other capabilities for state infrastructure banks.

The plan would also provide more flexibility to transportation projects that have minimal federal funding but are currently required to seek federal review and approval.

With respect to highways, the Trump plan would authorize federal land management agencies to use contracting methods available to states, raise the threshold for major project requirements to $1 billion, authorize utility relocation prior to NEPA completion, authorize repayment of federal investment to eliminate perpetual application of federal requirements, and provide small highway projects with relief for the same federal requirements as major projects.

Transit proposals include requiring value capture financing as a condition of receipt of transit funds for capital investment grants; eliminating constraints on the use of public-private and public-public partnerships in transit; and codifying expedited project delivery for the Capital Investment Grants pilot program. 

The administration’s proposal for airport infrastructure includes creating more efficient FAA oversight of non-aviation development activities at airports, and reducing barriers to alternative project delivery for airports. Additionally, the Trump infrastructure plan would clarify authority for incentive payments under the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), and move oversight of AIP funds to post-expenditure audits.

Rural Infrastructure


Biden’s infrastructure plan would invest in water infrastructure, transportation, broadband infrastructure, and community development programs, among others. (See respective sections above and below).

Additionally, he would invest in sustainable agriculture and conservation, including:

  • Mobilizing conservation and resilience workers through a Civilian Climate Corps.
  • Creating more than 250,000 jobs immediately to clean up local economies from the impacts of resource extraction.
  • Reforming irresponsible trade policies and policies that favored oil producers over American growers; Biden will return America’s advantage in agriculture, create jobs, and reinvigorate rural communities.
  • Assist farmers in leveraging new technologies, techniques, and equipment to increase productivity and profit.
  • Pursue smarter pro-worker and pro-family-farmer trade policies.
  • Bolster food supply security and resilience.
  • Ensure small and medium-sized farms and producers have access to fair markets where they can compete and get fair prices.
  • Invest in diverse farmers.
  • Expand protections for farm workers.
  • Build on the Biden Plan for Rural America.


$50 billion of the proposed $200 billion in direct federal funding would go to a new Rural Infrastructure Program to rebuild and modernize infrastructure in rural America. 80 percent of funds in the program would be allocated to state governors, providing them with flexibility to prioritize state and local needs.

The remaining funds would be distributed through rural performance grants.

Resilient Infrastructure


Would upgrade the building sector to retrofit buildings  and upgrade schools and homes across America. This includes:

  • Creating 1 million jobs upgrading 4 million buildings and weatherizing 2 million homes over four years.
  • Upgrading 4 million commercial building will return nearly a quarter of the savings from those retrofits to state and local governments.
  • For families, Biden will include direct cash rebates and low-cost financing to upgrade and electrify home appliances, install efficient windows, and reduce energy bills.
  • Establish building performance standards for existing buildings nationwide and support this effort with new funding mechanisms for states, cities, and tribes to adopt strict building codes and labor standards.
  • Pass legislation to set a new net-zero emissions standards for all new commercial buildings by 2030.





Biden would pursue a historic investment in clean energy innovation, including through using federal procurement to purchase key clean energy inputs like batteries and electric vehicles.

Would transform the U.S. electricity sector through the following initiatives:

  • Marshal historic investment in energy efficiency, clean energy, electrical systems, and line infrastructure, aiding the electrification of transportation and creating new battery storage and transmission infrastructure.
  • Reform and extend tax incentives to generate energy efficiency and clean energy jobs; develop innovative financing mechanisms that leverage private sector dollars to maximize investment in the clean energy revolution; and establish a technology-neutral Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard (EECES) for utilities and grid operators.
  • Leverage existing infrastructure and assets, including prioritizing re-powering of lines that already exist with new technology, leveraging recent energy storage breakthroughs, doubling down on tax incentives for carbon capture technology, and lowering market costs of green hydrogen. 

Biden would create a new Advanced Research Projects Agency on Climate to help achieve the 100 percent clean energy target. He would also accelerate innovation in supply-chain resilience and invest in our national laboratories.


Energy would be considered an eligible infrastructure sector under the proposed Transformative Projects Program. Additionally, the proposal would enable revenues from energy development on public lands to pay for capital and maintenance needs of public lands infrastructure.

The Trump plan seeks Congressional authorization to allow the Secretary of the Interior to review and approve permits for pipelines crossing lands administered by the National Parks Service.



Would invest in the repair of water pipelines and sewer systems, replace lead service pipes, upgrade treatment plants, and improve integration of efficiency and water quality monitoring technologies to ensure that all Americans have access to clean, safe drinking water.

This includes protecting watersheds and conserving and restoring wetlands and developing green infrastructure and natural solutions. 


The plan proposes to incentivize the development of effective and efficient water infrastructure, outcome-based procurement, and full life-cycle asset management to improve water infrastructure. This would include authorizing a Clean Water Revolving Fund for privately owned public-purpose treatment works, as well as by providing more flexibility to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The campaign agenda establishes a goal to “continue to lead the world in access to the cleanest drinking water and cleanest air.”



Would expand broadband, or wireless broadband via 5G, to every American in order to help leverage the next generation of smart infrastructure. Considers universal broadband as critical to broadly shared economic success.


Trump’s infrastructure plan proposes supporting broadband and other high-speed data and communication conduits through the Rural Infrastructure Program and Rural Performance Grants, as well as through the Transformative Projects Program, and by broadening the eligibility of Private Activity Bonds to include rural broadband service facilities.

The 2020 Trump campaign agenda outlines a goal to “win the race to 5G and establish a national high-speed wireless internet network.”



Biden’s plan would launch a major, multi-year effort to modernize the nation’s schools and early learning facilities.

Biden would make a “historic investment” to improve public school buildings, with resources weighted to those in lower-income rural and urban schools, often communities of color, where poor school quality is a barrier to equal educational opportunity. Funds would address:

  • Health risks;
  • Create cutting-edge, energy efficient, innovative, climate resilient campuses with technology and labs;
  • Upgrade child care and early learning facilities that are not safe or developmentally appropriate for young children.

Biden would strengthen land-grant universities, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and other minority serving institutions by expanding facilities, targeting grants, and supporting training.


See Manufacturing section above regarding educational investments.

The 2020 Trump campaign agenda prioritizes school choice for all American children and teaching American exceptionalism.



Biden would spur construction of 1.5 million homes and public housing units to address the affordable housing crisis, increase energy efficiency, and reduce the racial wealth gap.

In addition to increasing the level of federal investment in new affordable, accessible, energy efficient housing construction, Biden would drive capital into low-income communities to spur development of affordable housing and small business creation, and incentivize smart regional planning.



DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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Cozen O'Connor

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