FIRST ON FOX: An internal memorandum circulated among lawmakers by Senate Commerce Committee Republicans highlights how the Biden administration is tying billions of dollars in taxpayer funds to "woke initiatives."
The memo, first obtained by Fox News Digital, was sent late Monday evening and spearheaded by Commerce Committee Ranking Member Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is planning to author legislation that would prohibit the Department of Transportation (DOT) from tying federal funds to left-wing priorities. It particularly targets DOT's management of three grant programs that serve as key vehicles to fund various types of surface transportation projects nationwide.
"Billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars meant for infrastructure projects are tied to woke initiatives that are more focused on dismantling America’s infrastructure in the name of ‘equity’ and ‘climate change’ than building roads, bridges, and highways to connect the country," the memo states.
"Congress must not allow the Department of Transportation to push the absurd concept of ‘racist roads’ to prevent Americans from getting much-needed improvements to their highways," it continued. "The funding notices issued by DOT should focus on the law as written, not woke priorities."
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, attends a Senate hearing on May 11. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
In June, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced that his agency had started accepting applications for the National Infrastructure Project Assistance, Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA), and Rural Surface Transportation Grant programs. The three programs received a collective $5.6 billion boost, most of which supports INFRA, under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021.
Buttigieg said the grants eventually awarded under the programs would support "transformational infrastructure projects across the nation." But the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) the DOT issued as part of its grant awarding process states recipients must broadly address equity and climate concerns.
"Projects that have not sufficiently considered equity and barriers to opportunity in their planning, as determined by the Department, will be required to do so before receiving funds for construction," the DOT's NOFO states.
"Projects that have not sufficiently considered climate change and environmental justice in their planning, as determined by the Department, will be required to do so before receiving funds for construction," the document adds.
The two funding conditions cite President Biden's day-one executive order titled "Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government."
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in 2021 that there is "racism physically built into some of our highways." (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Following Buttigieg's announcement, Cruz wrote in July to the Government Accountability Office, asking for confirmation that the NOFO is a rule and, therefore, is subject to Congressional Review Act (CRA), a law dating back nearly three decades that allows Congress to revoke federal regulations. The federal watchdog responded last month, saying it was, in fact, subject to the law.
According to the memo circulated Monday, Cruz will soon introduce a CRA resolution "challenging ‘woke’ anti-highway policy in DOT grants." The resolution would additionally target other DOT policies such as framing road building as increasing "automobile dependence," and condemning highway expansion projects that don't involve electric vehicle charging stations or bike lanes.
"Taken together, these additions, which severely deviate from the criteria in law, will favor states seeking to expand mass transit and bike paths over states wanting to build roads. The added requirements on grant agreements, which are necessary for money to be paid after awards are announced, are particularly pernicious," the memo adds.
"The DOT funding notice guarantees that applicants will not get construction funds unless they embrace the administration’s extreme views on climate and equity," it states, calling for Congress to support Cruz's forthcoming resolution that opposes the Biden administration's "anti-highway agenda."
The Transportation Department's funding decision prioritizing equity and climate change has been applied to programs created under President Biden's 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
For years, left-wing groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and activists have argued U.S. cities historically used highway infrastructure to further racist discrimination. Buttigieg has sought to reverse past racist policies that led to certain infrastructure decisions.
"There is racism physically built into some of our highways, and that’s why the jobs plan has specifically committed to reconnect some of the communities that were divided by these dollars," Buttigieg said in an interview with theGrio in 2021.
In June 2022, Buttigieg launched the $1 billion Reconnecting Communities program that aims to reverse infrastructure policies that divide communities and disconnect certain neighborhoods from economic opportunities.
"Transportation can connect us to jobs, services and loved ones, but we‘ve also seen countless cases around the country where a piece of infrastructure cuts off a neighborhood or a community because of how it was built," Buttigieg said at the time.
"But we can't ignore the basic truth that some of the planners and politicians behind those projects built them directly through the heart of vibrant, populated, communities — sometimes in an effort to reinforce segregation," he said. "Sometimes because the people there had less power to resist. And sometimes as part of a direct effort to replace or eliminate Black neighborhoods."
The DOT didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Thomas Catenacci is a politics writer for Fox News Digital.