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The American Jobs Plan Could Provide Billions for the Environmental Health Workforce

Date posted: Monday, April 5, 2021
Blog poster: Doug Farquhar, JD

The American Jobs Plan Could Provide Billions for the Environmental Health Workforce

President Joe Biden's American Jobs Plan (aka the Infrastructure Bill) covers a lot, including environmental health. The plan has four main areas with specific funding for certain issues related to environmental health.

  1. Transportation infrastructure: $621 billion, including:
    • Infrastructure disaster resiliency: $50 billion
  2. Homes, school buildings, water infrastructure, and broadband: $650 billion, including:
    • Clean drinking water infrastructure: $111 billion
    • New workers in public lands and water: $10 billion
    • Upgrades to schools and public buildings: $100 billion
    • Retrofitting two-million homes and commercial buildings: $213 billion
  3. Caregivers for older adults and people with disabilities: $400 billion
  4. Research, development, and manufacturing: $300 billion, including:
    • American workforce development: $48 billion
    • Preventing future pandemics: $30 billion
    • Worker training and increase of worker protections: $100 billion

The plan will be paid for with tax increases. Including an increase to 28% on income for corporate taxes, an increase to 21% on income for multinational corporations, and the elimination of many loopholes in the tax code.

Some of this ambitious plan can be done through reconciliation, meaning it can pass without any Republican votes. Most of the tax increases fall into this category, meaning President Biden may have leverage in negotiating to get it passed.

Several aspects of this plan cover environmental health, both indirectly and directly. The plan seeks to build the capacity of the existing workforce development system, noting that this country has underinvested in workforce development for years. To compete in the global marketplace requires a trained and educated workforce, according to the plan. This plan will offer $48 billion in workforce development—including apprentice programs—and increase technical training for STEM and other in-demand sectors through partnerships with higher education and employer training programs.

Perhaps the foremost part of the plan that affects environmental health is the section on drinking water. The plan includes $56 billion in grants and loans to states, territories, tribes, and disadvantaged communities to upgrade and modernize the country's drinking water systems, wastewater and stormwater systems, and support water infrastructure in rural areas. Another $10 billion will go towards monitoring and remediating per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water systems, including small rural water systems and private household well and wastewater systems.

The plan seeks to eliminate all lead pipes and services lines in drinking water systems, providing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with $45 billion for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) and the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN) grants. SRF funds are revolving grants mainly used by water utilities to upgrade systems and are repaid by user fees, which allows states to reinvest the funds into other water projects.

Another environmental health program impacted will be Brownfields and Superfund sites. The plan invests $5 billion into the remediation and redevelopment of these sites, including economic investments and workforce development to encourage job creation.

The Protect Americans From Future Pandemics part of the plan seeks to provide $30 billion over 4 years to create jobs and prevent job losses caused by pandemics through investments in medical countermeasures manufacturing, research and development, and related biopreparedness and biosecurity. This plan includes investments to build up the nation's strategic stockpile—accelerating the timeline to research, develop, and field test therapeutics for emerging and future outbreaks—and train personnel for epidemic and pandemic response. The interconnectivity of world trade, the risk from spillover infections from animals to humans, the ease of making and modifying pandemic agents, and even biological weapons create the need for this nation to invest in pandemic preparedness, the plan notes. The goal of this section of the plan is to invest around $10 billion annually to protect and prepare this country for and from future pandemics.

The plan makes a specific investment into rural and tribal communities through the Rural Partnership Program. The package includes $5 billion in assistance for rural and tribal communities to access federal funding opportunities to rebuild aging infrastructure such as water systems and provide broadband access to these communities.

The big question with this plan is which parts (if any) will be passed by Congress. At this point, none of the plans have been adopted by either the House or Senate. Since the plan deals with taxes, it will have to start in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has just a nine-seat majority (meaning she cannot afford to lose votes from any of her party members). In the Senate, with its 50-50 split, parts of this plan that can be enacted by reconciliation (mainly the tax portions) may be enacted with only votes from President Biden's party, if there are no defections. For sections not considered available for reconciliation, then the plan needs at least 10 Republican votes, as well as all the Democratic Senate votes unless the Senate modifies the filibuster rule.

This ambitious plan will require tight negotiations to weave it through Congress with enough votes for passage. If passed, this plan could be a boon for the environmental health workforce.

About blog poster: Doug Farquhar is the director of Government Affairs at the NEHA in Denver, Colorado.