Infrastructure First, Sustainability Second

Revenue from Obama’s proposed $10 oil barrel tax should fund our crumbling infrastructure rather than clean energy efforts

President Barack Obama continues to push for actions against climate change and push for cleaner transportation when our physical infrastructure is at risk.

This month the President proposed a $10 charge per barrel on oil to fund a series of clean transportation initiatives. With this plan, oil companies would pay the barrel charge over a five-year span. In turn, this revenue will fund transportation methods that promote a cleaner, greener America. However, investing in “clean” transportation before we improve our already crumbling infrastructure is a miss.

President Obama has made clear that he believes taking strides to reduce carbon pollution offer opportunity to strengthen the economy, drive innovation, and create new jobs. While efforts to reduce carbon pollution may offer opportunity in some realms, the proposals addressing this have had their challenges at the federal level. As Obama enters his final year, it’s clear he wants to go out with a bang and maintain his image as a clean energy advocate.

Obama’s plan for sustainable transportation is the administration’s new approach to an old system. U.S. transportation was built around President Eisenhower’s vision of interstate highways connecting 20th century America, and during that time, it was a robust system. However, these structures are not able to take on a growing nation in the 21st century.

“A new approach to our transportation system can help to speed goods to market, expand transportation options, and integrate new technologies like autonomous—or self-driving—vehicles while at the same time reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, cutting carbon pollution, and strengthening our resilience to the impacts of climate change,” said The White House in a recent statement.

While all of this sounds great, let’s take a step back here a minute. Why are we taking a “new approach” to infrastructure, when we need to improve what we already have? Our future needs to include safe transportation before we can be so concerned with sustainable transportation. No more Band-Aids. If oil companies are going to be taxed, tax them to help fund the roads we drive on in cars fueled by their gas. Our crumbling roads and bridges need an upgrade now.

In fact, ASCE’s National Capital Section released the 2016 Report Card for Washington D.C.’s infrastructure in January, giving the nation’s capital an overall grade of “C-” with transportation receiving the lowest mark. D.C.’s roads are considered some of the most congested in the nation, according to The Washington Post. Gridlocks in the area and other U.S. cities not only extends daily commutes, but raises concern for safety in the event of an emergency. Even if we all are driving “green” cars, we’ll still be stuck together in traffic.

And regarding California’s infrastructure, political science professor Steven P. Erie at UC San Diego says that if California infrastructure were a student in his class, he’d give it an “F” grade. He has written many books about San Diego’s civic failings, which detail the scale of California’s governance mess and the enormous task of improving the state’s blasé attitude that freeways, airports, and levees built nearly a hundred years ago will last forever.

We need to breathe clean air and people need jobs. I’m all for it. In theory, that equation makes sense for Obama’s new proposal. However, for the safety of our nation (and for our sanity during work commutes), our physical infrastructure must take precedence before sustainable efforts. We can’t be a 21st century nation in the 20th century’s vision of infrastructure.

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