What's in Senate infrastructure bill for Michigan, Great Lakes, EVs

Washington — After weeks of closed-door negotiations, the text of a nearly $1 trillion infrastructure package brokered between President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators was released Sunday night. 

It includes $1 billion for the federal Great Lakes cleanup program, $7.5 billion for a program to support building out an electric vehicle charging network and provisions to strengthen "Buy American" rules.

The funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would be released over five years, starting in fiscal year 2022, and is the largest spending amount in the program made in a single piece of legislation, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who helped create the program. 

Stabenow, D-Lansing, led a group of eight senators in July in writing to leadership to press for inclusion of the funding in the infrastructure package. 

The legislation also sets aside $451 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for contracts and projects to restore Great Lakes, marine or coastal ecosystem habitats or for projects to protect coastal communities from flooding or coastal storms.

In a major disappointment for Michigan, an element missing from the text of the Senate package is the House-passed funding for local highway, bridge and public transit projects, including more than $210 million for projects in 12 of Michigan’s 14 congressional districts. 

"It’s obviously an issue of concern for members because we worked really hard on this," said U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint Township, who is chief deputy whip for House Democrats.

"The only the only thing I know for sure is that there's still a commitment to try to get these in whatever the final bill looks like."

The bipartisan Senate package does include a massive infusion for transportation infrastructure, including $110 billion for roads and bridges, $39 billion for transit and $66 billion for rail, according to the Associated Press. There’s also funding for water infrastructure, including $15 billion to remove lead service pipes; as well as funding for airports, ports and broadband expansions.

But it's unlikely at this point that the Senate would add any earmarks to the text when it's debated on the floor this week, particularly House earmarks, said said Jeff Davis, a senior fellow and editor of Eno Transportation Weekly.

Davis said that he doesn't see how the House's earmarked spending will get included if the bill does not go to a conference committee of House and Senate lawmakers, which the White House has discouraged for fear it will delay the legislation's adoption. 

A more likely outcome would be that the earmarks from the House-passed surface transportation authorization bill could be attached to a separate appropriations bill, Davis said.

The Senate package also includes $10 billion to aid in the cleanup of certain toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals, including $4 billion to help drinking water utilities remove the chemicals from water supplies or to connect well owners to local systems. Another $5 billion would help small or disadvantaged communities deal with PFAS in drinking water.

Also, $500 million in the legislation will go toward a loan fund, established last year through legislation by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, that is available to local governments to mitigate the effects of rising water levels, coastal erosion and damage caused by natural disasters such as the storms that caused massive flooding in Wayne and Washtenaw counties in June. 

Autos provisions

The Senate bill includes a promised $7.5 billion for the installation of electric vehicle charging stations and other alternative fuels. Those chargers would be required to have non-proprietary charging connectors and should be placed to ensure "geographic diversity" with the aim of building a nationwide network. 

Biden pledged to build out 500,000 charging stations nationwide to reduce "range anxiety" — consumers hesitating to buy an EV over concerns they wouldn't stand up to long drives. He originally proposed $15 billion for the network, and some transportation advocates say the $7.5 billion won't be enough to reach his goal. 

Grants would be prioritized for projects that expand access to charging in rural areas, low- and middle-income neighborhoods, and areas where people have less access to private parking, such as apartment complexes. 

Several studies would be required under the legislation, including one that would evaluate whether disparities in crash test dummies affect car safety. There's no existing crash test dummy that represents the average female driver, despite women being more likely to get hurt or die in car accidents. 

That provision of the legislation was based on a bill by Peters that he introduced in June with Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Nebraska, that would order the Government Accountability Office to study of federal vehicle safety tests. 

The Senate text also directs the administration to study the cradle-to-grave impact of EVs, the impact of "forced labor in China" on the EV supply chain, and the barriers and opportunities for scaling up EV adoption. 

Legislation spearheaded by Stabenow and Peters to tighten "Buy American" rules is also included in the package.

The bill would make it harder for agencies to grant waivers to the decades-old rule requiring the federal government to prioritize American manufacturers in contracts, barring waivers if foreign contracts would decrease U.S. employment and requiring any waivers to be posted publicly.

An auto-safety provision in the Senate text pushed by Peters and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, would require that cars be built with drunken driving prevention technology that stops a vehicle from working if the driver is deemed impaired. 

Their legislation was inspired by the 2019 deaths of Michigan's Abbas family, who were killed on an interstate in Kentucky by a drunken driver heading the wrong way.

Rana Abbas Taylor of Northville spoke about the bill in April before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, Maritime, Freight and Ports, which Peters chairs. Her sister, Rima, was among those killed in the Kentucky crash. 

"It is not OK that we have the technology and the ability to prevent these tragedies, and yet we still debate the matter," Abbas said.

The bill notes that drunken-driving fatalities in the United States in 2019 totaled 10,142 when counting drivers with a blood alcohol levels of 0.08 or higher.

In order to ensure they have time to tweak vehicle design, automakers would be required to comply with the new safety standard three years after it's published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

“We have the important technology to prevent drunk driving and save lives – it’s long past time we use it," Dingell said in a statement. The bill "is a huge step in making our roads safer and ending the drunk driving epidemic. Now we just need to take bold action and pass this package so that this technology can save over 9,400 lives each year.”