U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

December 31, 2022

Epic Progress for Maryland – Part Two

Dear Fellow Marylanders.

I hope you had a joyous and safe holiday with family and friends. For those who are first responders, frontline workers, and all who keep things running 24/7 regardless of holidays, I thank you for your service to our communities. We could not get through this season, or the year, without your dedication and sacrifice.

As promised, I have more to share with you about the historic accomplishments of the 117th Congress. In this email, I focus on many of the achievements that are strengthening our infrastructure, protecting and improving our environmental quality, and helping our beloved Chesapeake Bay. Each of these projects are fiscally responsible investments in Maryland and our nation, creating jobs and providing resources that make our communities more livable today and far into the future.

You may not be aware that I have been a member of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee since I first arrived in the Senate, and this past Congress I had the opportunity to serve as the chair of EPW’s Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Therefore, it was natural that I was actively engaged in shaping key pieces of legislation that together constitute an historic commitment to strengthening and upgrading our nation’s infrastructure, taking on the challenge of climate change, and advancing equity and environmental justice. Our accomplishments in these areas include the environmental provisions in the landmark Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the Water Resources Development Act.

The Inflation Reduction Act includes more than $35.5 billion to combat climate change and address environmental and equity issues through new programs and grants. These investments include, for example, $3 billion for multi-year Environmental and Climate Justice Block Grants to finance community-based projects to monitor and prevent air pollution through low and zero-emission technologies and workforce development to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate climate and health risks posed by extreme heat and urban heat islands, and support climate resiliency efforts.

The $369 billion in energy security and climate change mitigation initiatives in the IRA is an unprecedented commitment by the federal government to the transition to clean energy. It is expected that IRA will reduce U.S. greenhouse emissions to approximately 40 percent. Without the enactment of the IRA, this figure was only 26 percent. The Environment and Public Works section of the bill contains several accomplishments I have championed, including $250 million for the General Service Administration (GSA) to upgrade federal facilities to high-performance green buildings. The law also includes a historic expansion of a tax program I have led, the Section 179D energy efficient commercial buildings deduction, which provides a tax deduction for energy efficient building investments.  Energy efficiency is good business and good policy. This legislation will expand Section 179D – which was made permanent in 2020 under my leadership – to increase the deduction amount, improve its administration, allow more nonprofits to use the deduction, and expand its use to building retrofits.

The IRA supports America’s farmers and rural communities, with over $20 billion in funds for climate-smart agricultural practices through existing Farm Bill conservation programs, including $6.75 billion for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program and $1 billion for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, to provide financial and technical assistance to producers.  Many sustainable practices such as expanding cover crops and riparian buffers that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and help farmers adapt to climate change also improve water quality, including in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This investment will build on an additional $22.5 million in conservation assistance that the USDA announced for fiscal year 2022 in May 2022 to help farmers boost water quality improvements and conservation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Our commitment to the Chesapeake Bay is also reflected in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), bipartisan legislation generally developed every two years and once again passed this year. I am proud of my role in drafting this legislation as chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee.

The WRDA bill establishes new opportunities for small harbors to receive funding for maintenance dredging. This new program is significant for small communities like those on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries that would not otherwise receive prioritization, and Maryland has had a backlog of channels that have waited years for maintenance.

The WRDA 2020 expands the Army Corps of Engineers assistance for environmental infrastructure in Maryland. A new statewide authorization of $100 million for Maryland that I included in the bill will enable communities to pursue upgrades to wastewater, drinking water, and storm water infrastructure with Army Corps expertise and assistance.

The WRDA bill also enables new Army Corps projects on shoreline restoration and protection, and increasingly urgent matter under conditions of climate change and extreme weather events. Maryland is identified as a priority area for such projects.

The WRDA bill also authorizes a new Army Corps feasibility study for building the resilience of Washington, D.C.’s drinking water supply, which also impacts Maryland residents in the Washington metropolitan area.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed into law in November 2021- is a historic and long-overdue investment in our infrastructure that is starting to have an impact in Maryland and across the country.  This law will upgrade our aging infrastructure while accelerating the transition to clean energy and transportation, advancing environmental justice and climate equity, and building resilience in the Chesapeake Bay watershed region.

A major component of the infrastructure law is the reauthorization of federal transportation programs. In this reauthorization, however, we are introducing important new programs and commitments to addressing climate change and equity. The law includes a bold investment of $18 billion to reduce emissions and build resilience to climate change. It includes several of my transportation priorities, including the provisions of the Transportation Alternatives Enhancement Act, a program that I worked to establish with former Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) years ago. The TAP directs a set-aside of federal formula funds to priority projects in local communities – projects like sidewalks, bike paths, and safety improvements that make it easier for people to get around their neighborhoods.

Additionally, the law authorizes a provision based on legislation I authored with Senator Wicker to establish new pilot programs at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will award grants to help low-income households pay their drinking water, wastewater, or stormwater bills. The Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Program addresses the access of low-income households to affordable water services.

The threat of sea level rise and extreme weather is already a detriment to Maryland’s communities and ecosystems, especially along the Chesapeake Bay. With numerous and successful restoration efforts underway, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act authorizes an additional $238 million towards the Chesapeake Bay Program to reduce further reduce nutrient pollution and improve water quality in the surrounding tributaries.

Infrastructure projects take time and thoughtful planning to come to fruition. But just one year after President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law, we are beginning to see its potential. The law delivered another great victory for both the Chesapeake Bay and the Port of Baltimore, with $84 million for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin construction of the Mid-Chesapeake Bay Island Ecosystem Restoration Project. Dredged material from the Port of Baltimore will be used to rebuild the fast-disappearing James and Barren islands in Dorchester County, restoring habitats for wildlife and fish, ensuring safe navigation and the flow of commerce at the Port, and shoring up coastal resilience for local communities.

This year has been an exciting year in transportation as planning is turning to action. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has been hard at work standing up new programs, reaching out to states and local governments, and awarding grant dollars to move projects forward across various modes of transportation.  Over the last year, several Maryland jurisdictions have been very successful in competing for this new funding to bolster our multi-modal transportation systems, expand pedestrian infrastructure, electrify public and school bus fleets and rehabilitate bridges. Through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity/Local and Regional Project Assistance Grants (RAISE) grant program, the New Carroll Station project was awarded $20.5 million, and Penn Station received $6 million to advance progress on redevelopment and renovations. These rail stations are gathering places and points of connection for pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers, and transit passengers who need safe and efficient access to our cities and neighborhoods.

This year Prince George’s County received a grant of $560,000 from the new Bridge Investment Program to help with the planning for replacing two bridges in poor condition. Local communities have needed more help to advance this kind of planning, which is prerequisite for getting projects built. Maryland will receive at $409 million in formal funding over five years, plus have eligibility for additional competitive grants, so workers can repair or replace the more than 270 bridges statewide that are in poor condition.

Local governments across the state received federal support to modify, replace and upgrade, from diesel-gas powered buses and facilities, to low or no-emission vehicles.  Prince George’s County received $25 million, Montgomery County $14.88 million, and Anne Arundel County with $1.89 million through the Federal Transit Administration’s Low and No Emissions program, and Baltimore City is receiving $9.4 million from EPA’s Clean School Bus Program. These awards will accelerate the transition to electric and low-zero emission vehicles and reduce air pollution, better protecting current and future generations.

Among the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in Maryland’s airports statewide, Martin State Airport received $7.1 million – through the Federal Transit Administration’s All Stations Accessibility Program – to modernize and upgrade boarding and alighting platforms, ultimately improving accessibility, and reducing risks for daily passengers by becoming ADA compliant.

The infrastructure law also provided authorizations of long-term, dedicated federal funding for capital investments in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, including the $150 million appropriated in the FY 23 omnibus, and it provides an additional $1 billion of investments through the Appalachian Regional Commission for our region.  

I also worked to secure a lifeline for Baltimore’s Red Line, an east-west transit route that should be near completion now, almost ready for its first passengers. We cannot instantly restore the $900 million in federal funds the state had rejected to move forward the project. However, we did guarantee that the Federal Transit Administration will give fair and timely consideration of a replacement project rather than bumping it to the back of the line.

Within the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also is a measure that I led a hearing on and helped shepherd through on its way to become law: the Reconnecting Communities Act. Our measure will allow us to tear down the physical barriers to opportunity that had divided Baltimore City and other jurisdictions by race, such as the Franklin-Mulberry Corridor in West Baltimore. The program will fund planning, design, demolition, and reconstruction of street grids, parks, or other infrastructure through $1 billion of dedicated funding so that we can heal communities and create a legacy of connectivity and inclusion.

The COVID 19 pandemic had a devastating impact on our economy and so many communities and small businesses across the country. Thankfully, the various important pieces of legislation discussed above are following up on our initial efforts to support the recovery from this downturn. At the start of the Biden administration, the American Rescue Plan, provided vital economic recovery assistance, including $3 billion in investments through the Economic Development Administration. This funding has supported numerous initiatives across Maryland, including tourism infrastructure redevelopment and restoration on Smith Island, Cambridge, and Havre de Grace. It also funded design and engineering for the Annapolis City Dock resilience project to protect the city from floods; nearly $23 million for workforce development in renewable energy through EDA’s Good Jobs Challenge; a study to explore the feasibility of new passenger ferries on the Chesapeake Bay; facility renovation to support workforce development at Hagerstown Community College; and revolving loan funds supporting small and underserved businesses that face obstacles to other sources of capital.

Throughout my years serving on Capitol Hill, I cannot recall another as consequential as the 117th Congress. I am extremely proud of Maryland’s congressional delegation and my colleagues for finding ways to get things done, often against long odds and skepticism from pundits. There is more work ahead, but we are moving in the right direction while still protecting precious taxpayer dollars.

I also greatly appreciate your support along the way. You have proven beyond any shadow of doubt that by working together, we can do great things.

Happy New Year!

               Ben Cardin