Federal Infrastructure Investments Not Yet Reaching California Communities that Need Them Most

New Report Says More Must be Done by State and Federal Agencies Responsible for Allocating Critical Funds

Published Jun 6, 2024

A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that at the halfway point of implementing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the historic federal investments flowing into California are not yet meeting federal environmental justice goals.

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The analysis of non-transportation funding designated for California by the infrastructure law found that less than a quarter of the money is currently flowing to communities designated as disadvantaged by federal standards, despite a goal of getting 40% of the benefits to communities that are historically underserved and overburdened by pollution.

The report’s authors used publicly available federal data and environmental justice screening tools to determine where federal infrastructure investments are going in California, the recipient of more than $41 billion in announced funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law —the most of any state so far. Transportation is the largest portion of the investments, but was not included in the analysis because it is already being tracked by the state of California.

Of almost $800 million in local awards analyzed, the report found only $190 million is going to federally designated disadvantaged communities in California to invest in broadband, water, energy, and climate resilience projects.

“Extreme climate events disproportionally burden communities of color, Spanish-speaking communities, and people with low incomes,” said Dr. Amanda Fencl, senior climate scientist in the California office of the Union of Concerned Scientists who co-authored the “Follow the Money” report. “That’s why the federal goal of spending 40% of this infrastructure money on these communities is so important. We must protect all communities from the impacts of climate change, particularly those most at risk and those that have long suffered from underinvestment. With less than three years remaining to invest billions of federal dollars, it’s necessary to closely track the money to ensure it is going to where it’s needed most.”

The report suggests state and federal agencies responsible for distributing the funds may be falling short despite efforts to prioritize underserved communities. It found that only 24.4% of the first two years of analyzed investments are currently flowing to communities designated as disadvantaged by federal definitions.

“Past studies have shown that other federal funding programs have not adequately reached underserved communities,” said Jenny Rempel, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group and a co-author of the report. “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding represents an historic investment and that’s why we need to get it right. To do that, we need more transparency from state and federal agencies responsible for allocating these critical funds to demonstrate that they are meeting federal environmental justice goals and prioritizing equity in their funding decisions.”

Additional Resources: The Harvey Mudd College Clinic Program and the Union of Concerned Scientists created a data visualization site—including an interactive dashboard—to convey the results of the analysis.