Environmental Remediation and Infrastructure Policies Supporting Workers and Communities in Transition

This review examines major federal policies related to environmental remediation and infrastructure spending, highlighting the existing evidence on program effectiveness across multiple metrics.



Sept. 15, 2020


Daniel Raimi



Reading time

2 minutes

Executive Summary

Environmental remediation and infrastructure spending have a significant potential role in reducing pollution and supporting workers and communities affected by a transition to clean energy. This review examines major federal policies related to these two areas, highlighting the existing evidence on program effectiveness across multiple metrics.

Environmental remediation programs can provide near-term job opportunities and restore sites to economic use in regions with a history of pollution, including pollution from energy extraction and consumption. The evidence is strong that remediation increases nearby property values and provides job opportunities during cleanup. Depending on their design and implementation, increased efforts in this area could benefit energy communities and communities affected by the legacy of environmental injustice.

Recent research suggests that some of these programs, including remediating abandoned oil and gas wells, can provide direct jobs at relatively low cost, but evidence on the cost-effectiveness of job creation for the Superfund and Brownfields programs is mixed. Important questions regarding employment effects of remediation are whether they persist over time, and which workers and communities benefit most from these job opportunities.

Infrastructure programs for highways, public transport, and clean water also have the potential to support employment and economic growth in communities heavily dependent on fossil energy. Although economists have debated whether transportation infrastructure investment increases overall economic activity or merely redistributes it, the latter outcome may be valuable in the context of an energy transition, particularly if new infrastructure serves communities negatively affected by a shift away from fossil energy.

Some infrastructure projects, particularly those providing clean water, can address the legacy of surface and groundwater pollution in some fossil energy producing and consuming communities. In addition, infrastructure investment—depending on its design and implementation—has the potential to reduce a legacy of environmental injustice.

Key Findings

Environmental remediation

  • Millions of sites in the US—many of which are in regions that have historically depended on fossil fuel production—need environmental remediation.
  • The federal government plays a large role in reducing pollution across the US. Remediation programs could be enhanced and targeted toward workers and communities negatively affected by an energy transition.
  • Remediating polluted sites typically increases local property values and can temporarily increase employment.
  • Remediation projects may especially benefit low-income people and people of color, though there is some concern that these projects can lead to “environmental gentrification.”

Broad infrastructure programs

  • For communities where fossil fuels provide a large share of the local tax base, a transition could reduce tax revenues, making water system maintenance more difficult—which is especially concerning given that these communities may be at greater risk of pollution. Water infrastructure programs could address this issue.
  • Transportation infrastructure projects create short-term jobs and induce long-term economic development by making transportation easier and cheaper. This could be particularly important for fossil energy regions currently underserved by transportation infrastructure.
  • The design, implementation, and enforcement of policies will shape whether, and to what extent, future infrastructure spending will affect socioeconomic inequity.


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