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What the infrastructure bill means for New Hampshire, Vermont

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/11/2021 7:09:03 AM
Modified: 11/11/2021 7:09:11 AM

HANOVER — The $1 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden is expected to sign on Monday will send billions of dollars to the Twin States in the coming years, including major investments in measures to help the environment and combat climate change.

That includes money for charging networks for electric vehicles, a resilient power grid, public transportation and weatherization.

The bill makes the “single largest clean energy investment in American history,” U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement. It devotes $73 billion for improvements to the electric grid, including thousands of miles of new power lines delivering renewable energy across the country. It also allocates $5 billion to replace school buses with zero-emission buses and $3.5 billion for a weatherization assistance program to reduce energy costs for low-income households, which is critical in New England where heat is a burdensome expense for many families.

“This brings (funding) to levels where we can begin to really invest in the critical infrastructures we need to both transform and adapt our energy systems to our changing world,” said Elizabeth Wilson, director of the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society at Dartmouth. “We know that it’s not nearly enough to make the kind of transformation we need to actually do this well, but the hope is that this will also encourage private finance and allow projects to really move forward in important ways.

“The goals are very ambitious,” Wilson added. “Actually implementing the goals is very, very hard.”

As an example, she cited how “notoriously” difficult it is to build transmission lines in New England, where the need to build a resilient international power grid runs up against the local commitment to the scenic landscape, such as in opposition to the Northern Pass project that sought to bring hydropower to southern New England from Quebec.

Over the next five years, Vermont will receive $21 million and New Hampshire will receive $17 million to fund an expanding EV charging network. Vermont will also receive $40 million to protect water quality in the Lake Champlain basin, $355 million to improve water infrastructure over the next five years and $83 million for public transportation, according to Leahy’s office and White House fact sheets.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire will receive $418 million for water infrastructure, $125 million for public transportation and $5.6 million to protect against wildfires, which may become more severe in New England as the climate changes, according to the New Hampshire delegation.

In Vermont, extreme weather events between 2010 and 2020, including Tropical Storm Irene, cost the state up to $1 billion in damages. In New Hampshire, extreme weather events cost up to half a billion dollars in the same period.

The infrastructure bill allocates over $47 billion nationally to build infrastructure that is more resilient to droughts, heat and floods.

Vermont and New Hampshire will also be able to take advantage of the national $10 billion investment in cleaning up PFAS contamination. PFAS — perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as “forever chemicals” designed to resist heat, oil, heat, grease and water — are widely used in consumer and industrial products from firefighting foam to pizza boxes. They persist in the environment, and some accumulate in the humans and animals over years as they “bioamplify” up the food chain. Some are linked to health ailments including testicular cancer.

Pat Parenteau, a professor at the Vermont Law School, said that further research is needed to understand the full health impacts of these chemicals, especially as manufacturers continue to develop new ones. However, they are so widespread that almost all testing sites in Vermont find at least trace amounts of PFAS in water supplies, he said.

“This is the first time any significant amount of money is being devoted to this problem,” Parenteau said. “It’s probably more than a drop in the bucket. But it’s nowhere close to what’s needed.”

“If you don’t stop the source of these chemicals, what’s going to happen is you’re going to defeat a lot of the remediation because these water supplies are going to be recontaminated,” he added.

The environmental funding is just part of the multibillion-dollar influx of federal dollars headed to the Twin States in the infrastructure package, which passed Congress late last week with bipartisan support. The Upper Valley will benefit from increased investments in broadband, with both Vermont and New Hampshire receiving at least $100 million each. The bill sets aside funding for rural states where high-speed internet is particularly expensive to deploy. And both New Hampshire and Vermont will receive over $1 billion each to replace and repair their roads and bridges. The Twin States will also benefit from about $12 million each to protect against cyberattacks.

Both states will have the opportunity to apply for further funding, including some of the $2.5 billion dedicated across the country to EV charging.

Meanwhile, Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which includes major environmental and social investment proposals, remains stalled in a Congressional deadlock. While the infrastructure bill focused on resilience, the Build Back legislation contains policies geared toward cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, along with a broad range of social initiatives.

Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at cpotter@vnews.com or 603-727- 3242.




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