Let’s come back safer, smarter and stronger
Today, our country and our economy are on pause from business as usual. The fallout from this pandemic is so widespread, and the long-term implications are hard to fully grasp. So, what do we do at this moment in time? How will we fully get our feet back under us and begin to revitalize our communities and our economy? How will we rebuild America so that we are investing in the health and well-being of all Americans, and delivering lasting improvements for years to come?To answer these difficult questions, we need strong leadership from our public officials—leaders who will inspire us to work together and commit to put millions back to work building a better America that is stronger, safer and smarter.
Here is how we begin.
We can create jobs and clean the air by modernizing our transportation system. Studies show that public transit prevents the equivalent of burning of more than four billion gallons of gasoline annually, translating to billions of dollars saved by consumers and 37 million fewer tons of climate pollution released into the atmosphere every year. These benefits can be multiplied if we make investments that electrify our transit systems.
Before this crisis hit, one-in-ten Americans boarded public transit every day to get to work or school, but many of our nation’s public transit systems are in desperate need of upgrade—especially in southern cities that have failed to keep up with the growing populations. Investing in upgrading and modernizing public transportation, including expanded adoption of electric buses, will immediately put thousands of people to work. And, a cleaner, and more reliable and affordable public transit system would especially help lower-income Americans who are much more likely to depend on public transportation and less likely to own a car.
We can put people to work immediately and build a safer America by upgrading and replacing outdated utility pipelines that deliver the basic services we need.
Gas pipelines that run under city streets leak dangerous methane gas and put our neighborhoods at risk. Over the past ten years, there were over 290 gas pipeline explosions in communities across the U.S., leading to over 125 deaths and nearly 600 injuries. This is preventable, but only through a concerted national investment.
Then there’s our lead service lines that deliver tainted water to over 9 million homes throughout the country. This has led to nearly 4,000 neighborhoods having childhood lead poisoning rates higher than Flint, Michigan, many in poor areas where mostly black, Latino and immigrant families live. Replacing these lead pipes will yield immediate public health benefits and generate thousands of jobs. This must be a national public health priority—the fact that the problem is still so widespread six years after the Flint, Michigan crisis is a tragedy.
While we push for upgrading and modernizing our city infrastructure, we cannot forget the critical role of natural areas and green space in keeping our communities clean, healthy and safe. In the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed critical infrastructure, channeled lifesaving flood control, improved stream health and created recreational opportunities that millions of people still use today, all while employing millions of Americans.
We can again put people to work addressing the significant maintenance backlog at public facilities such as our nation’s parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands. We should also beef up investments to help states shore up their coastlines, invest in water infrastructure projects and expand reforestation efforts. These investments will make communities more resilient to extreme weather events, improve water quality and support our nation’s agriculture. These are shovel-ready jobs, literally.
Leadership is revealed during times of crisis—stepping forward with conviction, a steady hand and a unifying vision. This is the moment for lawmakers to put forward bold policies that will lift us out of this dark time and place us on a trajectory towards a better future. This is the road we must travel towards a better America.
The challenge ahead of us is great, but so too is the opportunity. Let us not squander it.