Water fountains at Plessy Community School in New Orleans covered with plastic in March 2019 after an off-the-shelf test, performed by a student, came back positive for contaminants. Filters have since been installed at the school. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

Our nation’s capital is not a place that’s known for its ability to get things done. Pick any problem. Over the years, Congress has probably found a way not to act on it. But after years of failed “infrastructure weeks,” both sides of the aisle came together last month to deliver the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act; and Louisiana stands to benefit from this groundbreaking, bipartisan bill. This important, truly bipartisan legislation features a major transportation, clean water, and power infrastructure package that will have a big impact on the state. Outside the halls of Congress, most folks don’t spend too much time discussing infrastructure; but this tangible framework of our country — from sturdy roads to clean pipes — plays a critical role in maintaining public health and the environment. 

This bill makes several first-time, landmark investments that will help improve Louisiana’s water quality. And we need it. Louisiana is home to an estimated 56,000 lead service lines. It ranks twenty fourth in the union for having more lead pipes than 26 other states. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said that no level of lead exposure is safe. Moreover, it’s particularly harmful to children. To combat this major health hazard, the bill allocates a record $55 billion for clean drinking water. That’s the largest investment in drinking water in American history. It includes significant funding for lead service line removal as well as money to address toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl), which are harmful chemicals that leach off of everyday products or make their way into our drinking water all too often.  

This package also helps with another pervasive, longstanding problem: America’s most toxic places, Superfund sites. The Bayou State has 26 Superfund sites, with another two proposed for entry onto the list. The bill earmarks $21 billion for environmental remediation nationwide, which is an unprecedented investment in cleaning up Superfund and other polluted sites. This is a huge win for those who live near the SBA Shipyard in Jennings, the Marion Pressure Treating facility, or Devil’s Swamp Lake in East Baton Rouge Parish. No one should have to live near a toxic waste site. The chemicals at these locations put those who live nearby in danger, increasing the risk of cancer, respiratory and heart diseases, and other serious illnesses. 

In addition to funding those important public health initiatives, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act makes groundbreaking investments in electric vehicle infrastructure as well. Most notably, it provides $7.5 billion for a nationwide electric vehicle charging network, with $73 million for Louisiana alone. This represents the federal government’s first investment in electric vehicle infrastructure. The bipartisan bill also delivers a guaranteed $5 billion for a national investment in electric and low-emission school buses, which will allow school districts across the state to ditch diesel-powered vehicles, cutting back on air pollution that contributes to climate change and puts our state’s 824,000 school children at increased risk for asthma and other serious health conditions.  

These investments in the very fiber of Louisiana’s infrastructure are a strong first step. While we still have a long way to go to fully meet our challenges, we shouldn’t dismiss what this bill represents — a compromise that brings elected officials from both sides of the aisle together for the greater good. Senator Bill Cassidy should be commended for his efforts to negotiate this package and get it across the finish line in the Senate. It continue America’s and Louisiana’s great tradition of reaching common ground, proving we can overcome our challenges if we find a way to work together.  

Sean Hoffmann is a federal legislative advocate with Environment America.