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Warren’s ‘Build Green’ Act Could Give Transit the Funding Left Out of Biden’s Climate Push

What would it take to give $500 billion to U.S. transit agencies — and why didn't Congress do it the last time they had a chance?

Photos, left to right: Gage Skidmore, NY MTA, LongBeach.Gov.

E-transit not e-cars.

The Biden administration’s signature climate bills underfunded public transportation, say a pair of leading progressive lawmakers — so it’s time to electrify and modernize the nation’s buses, trains and bike-share systems, just as we’ve already invested in electrifying our cars. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) and Rep. Robert Garcia (D–Calif.) recently won applause from sustainable transportation activists when they re-introduced an amended version of the BUILD GREEN Act, which would allocate $500 billion for new electric transportation infrastructure over the next 10 years — with an explicit mandate to “prioritize collective transportation over individual transportation.”

Originally introduced in 2021, the bill — whose full name is the "Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development and Generating Renewable Energy to Electrify the Nation’s Infrastructure and Jobs" Act — began as an effort to electrify the nation's entire vehicle fleet, including personally owned electric cars. In the process of folding the bill into the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, though, most BUILD GREEN programs related to shared transportation were cut, while individual drivers won a series of massive investments in charging infrastructure and highway improvements.

Those transit-related programs weren't included when Congress passed a companion climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, either, which awarded drivers additional tax credits to buy electric cars.

Now, as Congress gears up for the next transportation reauthorization package in 2026, progressives are sending a message that clean, mass modes must be the centerpiece of our national strategy to decarbonize the transportation sector, which remains America’s leading source of emissions because our auto-centric approach.

“I reintroduced BUILD GREEN to build on the historic progress of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act,” Warren said in a statement to Streetsblog. “It’s time for a bold national investment in electrifying and strengthening our public transportation.”

Warren says the BUILD GREEN Act wouldn’t just zap tailpipe pollution from American skies, saving an estimated $100 billion a year in healthcare costs and preventing 4,200 annual deaths related to air pollution. It would also give transit agencies a critical opportunity to modernize fleets and make them more clean and comfortable to attract new riders, often extending routes and expanding service to new areas in the process. 

The $150 billion that would be guaranteed to shared modes under the bill, Warren’s office points out, is $70 billion more than is needed to complete every single item on the Capital Investments Grants wish list — and grant administrators are directed to put shared modes first as that wish list grows.

Moreover, the grants could also be used to support less-talked-about electrification projects like electric bikeshare, which is exploding in popularity even as operators struggle to get the funding they need to keep fleets charged and rolling.

Electric carshare schemes could also receive money from the program, which may prove particularly transformative in the deeply car-dependent rural areas that would be guaranteed 30 percent of the funds. 

And because the federal government would pick up 90 percent of the tab on all BUILD GREEN projects — comparable to the amount it spent to subsidize the federal highway system — the bill sponsors hope that communities of all sizes will take part. Each state would be guaranteed at least $4 billion from the program, and no state will be allowed to claim more than $40 billion; no less than 40 percent will be guaranteed to historically disadvantaged and vulnerable communities, and workers on all projects would enjoy significant labor protections not guaranteed to them under the Biden administration’s current climate bills. 

“BUILD GREEN would … prioritize frontline and rural communities' needs and give transportation workers the top-notch wages, benefits, and protections they deserve,” Saul Levin, Legislative and Political Director at the Green New Deal Network said in a statement. “This legislation will build on the best programs of the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure, Investment, and Jobs Act, and speed us along the tracks towards a Green New Deal for Transportation.”

Unlike the Infrastructure, Investment, and Jobs Act, though, the BUILD GREEN Act won’t funnel billions to highways that will increase emissions over time — and at least if administered correctly, it won’t pay Americans to drive deadly SUVs and trucks like the Inflation Reduction Act, either. And while staffers acknowledge there’s little chance of it passing under the current GOP-led Congress, they hope that shifting the dialogue to policies like this now will position lawmakers to tackle car dependency more directly when reauthorization rolls around. 

“Electrifying and modernizing our public transportation system is good for our communities and good for the climate,” added Sen. Warren. “It’s a win-win.”

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