Time to Build Energy Infrastructure

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Several key congressional committees chose to focus on Infrastructure this week. This makes sense, as practical chances for moving a comprehensive infrastructure package are likely to run out of fuel around July 31, as lawmakers kick over into re-election gear.

President Trump set forth a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan a few weeks ago but it is having trouble getting traction, in part because it only called for $200 billion in federal spending. Stacked up against the visible needs to overhaul nearly every category of infrastructure, from roads to broadband to water systems, that seems too little.

It’s not appropriate to say too late because so many organizations and individuals are working hard to get dollars amassed and a smart national plan going. You can follow a well-organized effort at Infrastructure Week and on Twitter at #TimetoBuild. The 6th annual official “week” comes later in the spring.

On Tuesday, the House Energy & Commerce Committee held, as Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) noted, its 47th (!) hearing this Congress on infrastructure. The Committee has passed over two dozen pieces of infrastructure legislation, often on a bipartisan basis. It’s difficult for this key committee to add dollars to the infrastructure plan, but it can highlight worthwhile approaches, such as Smart Cities, and advocate for common-sense regulatory reforms.

Diverse witnesses from labor, environmental concerns and electric utilities each highlighted the need to build more transmission in every region. However, it can easily take up to a decade to get a line planned, permitted and built. One fix that makes sense – streamlining and better organizing how various federal agencies implement review responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act. IBEW helpfully referred to this as “one agency, one decision.”

Hydropower is “the largest renewable energy source for electricity generation in the United States.” But permitting delays and overlapping agency responsibilities needlessly hold up projects that can bring new hydropower to market or rebuild aging dams. Meanwhile, federal tax policy continues to favor splashier new renewable technologies. That doesn’t wash, according to the National Hydropower Association.

Smart Cities is a broad concept, but by breaking it down and shining a light on just one aspect, the mayor of Schenectady, New York opened some eyes to how cities and towns of all sizes can wring more value from infrastructure many take for granted, such as streetlights. Light poles can also host traffic and environmental sensors that feed information to government and utilities.

Can the dynamic members of this key Committee create enough momentum and excitement about the economy-boosting, job-creating powers of energy infrastructure to get the concepts into a major legislative package? For the country’s sake, we hope so. It is #TimetoBuild energy infrastructure everywhere.