What you might have missed in Biden’s infrastructure plan

The administration’s plan calls for electrifying at least a fifth of U.S. school buses out of a fleet of nearly 500,000, through a new EPA grant program. A 2019 report by the US PIRG Education Fund found that converting school buses to electric would cut emissions by 5.3 million tons, which would be the equivalent of taking about a million cars off the road. And, if the initial cost of replacement can be overcome, electric fleets could save school districts significant money on fuel costs.

The plan also calls for converting the entire fleet of federal vehicles to electric, a force of almost 650,000 — including delivery trucks for the USPS, which as it happens just embarked on a massive new (and controversial) procurement effort, though only 10 percent of those were envisioned to be electric.

Beyond visibility, the investments needed to seed school districts and USPS facilities throughout the nation with the infrastructure to sustain a fleet could help spur broader adoption beyond just major cities.

Education nation

Beyond school buses, the proposal also says funds will be used to help school districts cut down on disposable products in its lunchrooms. The potential impact is stark: The middle schools of Minnetonka, Minn., ditched disposable utensils and bowls and ended up saving $23,000 over three years, prevented over three tons of trash, and saved on water.

Biden’s proposal calls for all sorts of investments in schools and education, including higher education. One pot of money that has attracted less attention: a call for a $10 billion investment into research and development at historically black colleges and universities, plus $15 billion more for creating centers of excellence at HBCUs.

New federal offices

The proposal also contains a staggering $50 billion over eight years to create an office within the Commerce Department to oversee the nation’s critical supply chains, whose vulnerabilities have been exposed during the coronavirus pandemic. To give a sense of the scope of this office, which has yet to be defined beyond those broad contours, the entire Commerce Department’s most recently enacted budget was just $9 billion, and its largest division, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, made up $5.4 billion of that total.

The White House did not provide details on how the money would be spent, but noted the office would be “dedicated to monitoring domestic industrial capacity and funding investments to support production of critical goods.”