Sanders, Tlaib, Dingell push for infrastructure improvements, environmental justice in Metro Detroit

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Lawmakers and activists gathered in Detroit on Saturday advocating for President Joe Biden's $1 trillion infrastructure plan approved earlier this month.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, held a town hall at the Eastside Community Network and talked about how the plan would improve infrastructure and promote environmental justice in the region.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, left, I-Vermont, and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, at the town hall event in Detroit on Saturday, August 29, 2021.

Sanders, chair of the "Build Back Better Budget" committee, said some Republicans who are willing to give tax breaks to the rich are also eager to kick 30 million people off of health care by revoking the Affordable Care Act.

"The tie-breaking vote may come down to the Vice President at 5 a.m.," Sanders said. "Republican friends are saying we can't because we're going to raise taxes. They're right. We are finally going to raise taxes on the rich who are not paying their fair share. Does it go as far as I, Rashida, Debbie and Andy would like? No, but it will be the biggest piece of legislation in our lifetime."

Representatives of the Michigan Republican Party were not immediately available for comment.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, left, D-Detroit, Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn at the town hall event in Detroit on Saturday, August 28, 2021.

Tlaib and Sanders were joined by U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, and local advocates with the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, We the People of Detroit and Michigan United.

The town hall comes amid ongoing negotiations and drafting of the infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill expected to be unveiled next month.

The bipartisan plan received a 69-30 vote, including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, and is the cornerstone of Biden's agenda.

Tlaib said the effort goes beyond improving roads and bridges to focus on the care economy to support families and address climate threats.

"As a former student at Cass Tech, I was telling the senator (Sanders) we have a brand new built school with no clean drinking water," Tlaib said. "This bill would call for a complete replacement of lead-contaminated pipeline. No child shouldn't have access to clean water, and next is clean air. Wayne County hasn't met clean air standards in 15 years."

Childcare is $15,000 a year on average, but with the new plan, no family in America would pay more than 7% of their income, Sanders said.

Pre-kindergarten public education for 3- and 4-year-olds would be free. An expansion of Medicare would also cover dental, hearing aids, eyeglasses for seniors and lower the age for eligibility. Home health care would also be expanded to pay caregivers a living wage to take care of the elderly and disabled.

"We are finally gonna take on the greed and thievery of the pharmaceutical industry, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, Medicare will start negotiating prescription drug prices," Sanders said. "We are going to build, we are going to invest more in affordable and low-income housing, for the first time in the history of this country."

Hundreds of billions would be used to transform the energy system away from fossil fuel, Sanders said.

"We put money into communities like Detroit that are already suffering significantly the brunt of climate change especially, what it means in terms of flooding and the lack of electricity," he said. "This bill will be the largest single investment by far in American history. We are going to deal with climate, deal with housing, deal with child care, deal with home health care and we're going to put millions of people to work, at good-paying union jobs."

Dingell said Michigan needs to "build back better and the time is now," especially following six recent flooding events and multiple power outages.

"These once-in-a-lifetime storms left 20,000 homes in my hometown damaged, Detroit has the same amount. ... Every time we have a storm and (we) are in tears," Dingell said. "Does anyone really believe global climate change isn't real? It's here and the time for change is now."

Dingell said she's proud that Michigan put the world on wheels and now will lead the world on lowering carbon emissions. 

"Transportation is 30% of carbon emissions. I was at the White House three week ago when the autos have set a target themselves and the president have set a target of 50% of sales of electric vehicles by 2030, but that won't happen if we don't build out the infrastructure," Dingell yelled to attendees.

Levin, who represents Macomb and Oakland counties, said it's time for the suburbs to stand with the cities to build racial equity. 

He touted that the budget provides training for skilled trades, Head Start, pre-K programs, childcare and his America's Promise College Act.

"We are talking about giving all across this country tuition-free community college ... plus two years free college at any historically Black or minority-affiliated college," Levin said. "Infrastructure is the ability of our families to breathe, the ability to live with dignity, the ability to get an education without being buried in debt. We have got to get to work to pass the build back a better budget so people can breathe at last."

Michelle Martinez, with the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, spoke to the crowd sitting outdoors on a 90-degree day saying, she's excited to have solar power on her rooftop and a strong grid in the community.

"Clean air is more important. You know when it's hot like this, your lungs swell up from this ozone and if you have anyone in your family that has asthma, COPD, or any breathing problems, they're in a hospital on a breathing treatment," she said. "And it's just going to get hotter and hotter. We don't need the United Nations to tell us climate change is happening. We see it happening right in front of us so we're telling Congress to build back better."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_