Interview with National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy about $500 million dollars for Public Schools in Rural America

The National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy discussed the full details about the Biden-Harris administration’s American Rescue Plan for Building Better School Infrastructures to provide energy efficiency retrofits to public schools in rural America and USDA’s Rural development program that supports biofuel producer farmers for more sustainable land transportation and aviation. 

Full transcription of the interview below:

Brent: On Monday, April 4th, the Biden-Harris administration announce that is earmarked $500 million dollars for a grant program to assist public schools including those in rural America with important energy upgrades that not only will save the schools’ money but will lead to a healthier environment and today we wanted to welcome back to the program Gina McCarthy National Climate Advisor to talk about the initiative and Gina welcome!

McCarthy: Thanks so much Brent. It’s great to be here with you. I appreciate it. 

Brent: So the Biden-Harris action plan for building better school infrastructure is being funded by the bipartisan infrastructure law and American Rescue Plan to provide energy efficiency retrofits to schools. Many of which were built when current students, grandparents, or even great grandparents were in school. It’s also going to fund resilient design of new construction and provide for electric school buses in some districts.

Question 1: Why was now the appropriate time to make these investments and how will it lead to healthier, more efficient schools? 

Answer: Well, I’m not sure it was the appropriate time but it sure was about time. You know, you’re right. Many of us went to public schools many decades ago and we really haven’t seen the consistent investment in those schools so they can keep up with the latest technologies and they can make sure our kids are not just educated but they stay healthy in schools that are properly ventilated, that  have good lighting in them HVAC systems that save money so that money can really be spent where it’s most needed and that’s in educating our kids. So this isn’t just about one piece  of infrastructure investments. This is about really a plan that activates the entire federal government so that we can put even meet more resources on the table, leveraging investments not just from the bipartisan infrastructure law but from the American Rescue Plan so that we can really deliver solutions including energy efficiency, retrofits, electric school, buses, resilient designs for schools to keep our kids safe. You know, a kid that’s healthy and safe in school is going to be better able to learn and better able to grab those jobs of the future that we all want to deliver for them. 

Brent: And the thought here is that in the long run, more efficient schools will actually save taxpayers money as it’s estimated that the public K-12 schools spend about $8 billion dollars a year on energy bills which is the second largest expense after teachers salaries and now with these in place. More of these districts spend this money on learning rather than on energy bills. 

McCarthy: And it’s an exciting moment I think because we can see that schools really need this kind of investment and really our hope is in our children. Our opportunity is in keeping our families safe. But when you can do it in a way that actually saves money, that actually delivers the kind of technology improvements that are lasting, and that won’t cause air quality problems. They’ll get your kids home and back safely, that will really think about how kids can walk to school again and other ways in which we can help both urban and rural communities. Now that’s really what this is all about. It’s why it’s so exciting that the President’s infrastructure bill has passed and we now have more than a trillion dollars to really spend on what our current infrastructure has to look like if we’re going to be resilient to climate change and deliver the kind of efficient energy system that really going to save all of us money and keep us safe and secure in the future and this is a great part of how we’re going to invest in  our children’s future for them. It’s very exciting. The schools are terrific. Vice President Harris had a wonderful visit at the school in downtown Washington DC yesterday. The kids are excited. The teachers are ecstatic about the opportunity to save money and put it into teachers’ salaries, put it back into learning opportunities for the kids and we’re excited to be able to deliver it across the federal government because that’s what the Biden-Harris administration is all about. Just working together with our schools, with our local communities, making things happen, not just in our urban areas that need the investments but in our rural communities that certainly need equal opportunity to grab these resources and make them work for them. 

Brent: Well, and you talk about preparing for the jobs for future as with many of the initiatives the administration has announced lately. It’s also assumed that this funding will lead to creation of jobs predominantly in the trades. 

McCarthy: That’s right. I mean, as we prioritize investments in our schools, we’re talking about a couple of things. One is recognizing that this can result in immediately good paying union jobs in those communities where those investments are occurring but also they provide opportunities for training which is what we are also going to be coordinating with unions and others to make sure that our kids are prepared to take those jobs. Not just jobs but enter into career paths. And so there’s opportunities in community colleges there’s opportunities in upper grade schools so that we can really prepare our kids for those future opportunities. But also opportunities in upper grade schools so that we can really prepare our kids for those future opportunities. But also even more importantly right now as folks are struggling. We want to make sure that we’re growing jobs in communities that need it most. So this is really going to be investments that target those communities that provide resources to, so that folks can not only keep their kids educated and healthy but really create those past to future jobs that we know are going to be available as we look at all of the range of exciting new technologies that are out there and that’s not just solar on the roof but it’s geothermal opportunities to actually have great heat and air conditioning systems that’s low cost. You know that it’s exciting, it’s the moment of time and we’re going to grab it and work it for all we can for the people in this country. 

Brent: And the announcement talks about upgrades to HVAC systems, lighting, and insulation and name a few but another fast to this which we mentioned earlier was school buses and the announcement here was that USDA is also committed to using some rural development and loan and grant programs to support electric school bus purchases and charging infrastructure. I know we talked here previously with Transportation Secretary Buttigieg about plans to expand electric charging capacity nationwide. 

Question 2: What might that look like for schools and when might the first round of these buses be deployed among school fleets?

Answer: Well, it’s looking right now as a Department of Transportation has $5 billion dollars for a clean school bus program that’s funded to the bipartisan infrastructure law that funding is going to be ready for people to utilize later this spring and we’re going to have a toolkit that’s going to help schools have ways of accessing these resources and really this is all about not just one funding source but recognizing that across the Federal Government a lot of money is extended. If we’re smart about it if we coordinate it then we can take the resources to these clean school buses we can marry it with over $50 billion dollars that’s provided the bipartisan infrastructure law to actually expand charging stations for these types of electric vehicles and passenger cars because they’re going to be necessary and to use and deliver the kind of mileage that rural communities need and so we’re going to be moving forward to that in grid transmission updates so that these resources can be available for clean efficient energy all across the United States. So, we’re doing our best, friends as you can tell from making sure that the old bureaucracies that pigeonhole things just don’t exist anymore. We all talk about what we need to do for the people that we serve. How we can benefit communities especially those in the rural areas that need to travel more mileage than others. How do we make all these new technologies in these new cars and vehicles and buses and trucks and trains available for folks so they can breathe clean air and they can have the cost savings in their pocket to keep their families healthy and afloat even when times are tough. 

Brent: I know a lot of the focus here is on electric vehicles here but we got a lot of corn and soybean farmers who listen to this program and the one thing i wonder..

Question 3: Is there any potential funding for buses that run on biodiesel or renewable diesel especially in these rural areas where the infrastructure just isn’t in place yet for running fully electric buses. 

Answer: There are definitely a number of buses across the US that are now fueled with biodiesel and that’s the job of the USDA and they’re doing a wonderful job to expand the ability of vehicles everywhere to utilize biofuels. It’s an insignificant opportunity to actually invest in our rural community, continue to support our farmers and USDA is all in, in terms of an ability to be able to advance that in not just in buses but certainly it’s available in other means of transportation you know one of the other exciting areas we’re looking at is sustainable aviation. You know our planes can run on these biofuels. We’re actually asking the airline sectors to step up, to make some real commitment to invest in biofuels to utilize it. Lower greenhouse gas emissions lower the kind of pollution that’s hurting our kids and let’s get it all done together and we have a lot of airline industries excited about this opportunity and so we’re going to continue to keep pushing them and supporting them every step of the way. 

Brent: Well, Gina this is a plan that aims to have a positive impact on schools and the communities they serve. We look forward to reporting on the results this program produces and we want to thank you so much for taking the time to explain it to us and invite you to come back anytime to share the latest on the climate policy from the White House. 

McCarthy: You got it, Brent. Thanks so much. 

Brent: Again, we’ve been speaking with National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy. 

**End of Interview**

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