By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,

When President Biden signed the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (ILJA) in 2021, much of the legislation addressed greener, more accessible transportation for all. 

The bill not only included the largest federal, public transit investment, $89.9 billion, in U.S. history, it sets aside $7.5 billion to construct a nationwide network of electric vehicle (EV) chargers to power the transportation of the future. 

The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s (CBCF) Center for Policy Analysis and Research hosted “Revving Up Change: Charging Forward for Transportation Equity” at the Annual Legislative Conference on Sept. 20 to examine the opportunities and benefits that can come from this EV investment. 

“Public transportation sits at a very important intersection of economic, social and environmental justice. Economic because it provides the opportunity for people to get access to jobs, whether it’s across town or whether they’re taking jobs that are in their public transportation agencies. Social because there are those who can’t access cars or afford cars,” said David Stephen, panelist and communications specialist for the International Transportation Learning Center.

“Environmental [because] we’re taking cars off the street and converting those vehicles into battery EVs. Then we have buses that are not putting out all these emissions that are destroying our neighborhoods and destroying our health.” 

Biden’s EV program seeks to build a total of 500,000 chargers along U.S. highways and in communities. Federal funding for these projects is being deployed to state and local governments and metropolitan planning organizations through two key programs administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). 

“With federal funding, there’s two primary buckets. You have your formula funding, which is specific, direct allocation to states and where states’ departments of transportation take those dollars and allocate them based on their prioritization process,” said Keith Benjamin, panelist and associate administrator for highway policy and external affairs at the FHWA. “Then you have discretionary dollars that are grant dollars. They get allocated based on who is eligible.” 

The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula program will deploy $5 billion to states through 2026. Total funding for each state ranges from $13.6 million to $407.8 million. Maryland is set to receive $9.2 million. 

To gain approval, for funding, states were required to submit plans detailing how they intended to distribute the funds equitably. Gov. Wes Moore created the Maryland Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Plan to outline his strategy, which includes prioritizing disadvantaged and rural communities for charger infrastructure. 

“That’s why every state had to have a public engagement plan within their state plan before they’re able to get their full, apportioned funding. That’s why when people fill out their applications for the discretionary funding, they have to show a narrative of what disadvantaged business enterprises they’re engaging and what their workforce plan is,” said Benjamin.  

[Then], when we look back at this and say we’ve met the goal that the president laid out of 500,000 chargers around the country, we can say that the implementation has been done through the lens of equity,” Benjamin continued. 

The construction of these stations presents the need for training and education in the EV field, particularly in communities most affected by transit issues. Under the ILJA, states are instructed to spend five percent of their funding for zero-emission fleets on workforce development. Although they do have the ability to opt out of this aim. 

“That is our opportunity to make sure that we are dedicating that to the recruitment of African Americans who live in the communities that these buses are transporting people in,” said Stephen.”It’s going to require the entire community to participate in.” 

The Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, established under the ILJA, has already begun offering EV workforce training opportunities. The agency acts as an intermediary between the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Energy (DOE).

“We have programs, particularly within the DOE, focusing on how we get young people trained into making the future batteries, the powertrains and the vehicles themselves that are going to be transforming our transportation network,” said Richard Ezike, program communications specialist for the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation. “We have programs like the Battery Workforce Challenge, which brings young people [together] at universities to make a battery-powered car from scratch. There’s also opportunities for building the most sustainable vehicle.”

Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member.