Infrastructure

 

Monday, February 12, 2018

From President Trump’s State of the Union Speech on January 30, 2018:

 

…As we rebuild our industries, it is also time to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just 1 year — is it not a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road? I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve.

Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need. Every Federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with State and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment — to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit.

Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process — getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one.”

I have to admit, I did not watch the State of the Union (or “SOTU” as us D.C.-types like to abbreviate it). I have deliberately not watched the SOTU since the mid-1990s, so no, it’s not because of the current political environment. (For the last 25 years since I have been in D.C., the political environment has been pretty difficult – think impeachment proceedings – so I am pretty immune at this point.) Despite what might appear as cynicism on my part, I love our country and I want to hear the plan any President lays out (whether or not it gets fully implemented). I just get impatient with the scripted pauses and standing ovations. I also like to read what the President said rather than having pundits tell me what I just heard and debate what it meant. Just sayin’…the SOTU…

So, every year I read the entire thing the next morning—sans standing ovations. Back in the day, I’d read it in hard copy in the Washington Post, but now, it’s just a google away. As I went through the speech, I was struck by how little infrastructure was mentioned (the excerpt above encompasses the whole kit and caboodle) even though the hype leading up to the speech was so focused on the infrastructure package. Given such little airtime, it will be interesting to see what comes out this week in the lengthier set of recommendations expected from the Administration.

(Breaking News: The White House Office of the Press Secretary released a statement today announcing the release of President Trump’s Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America, which UTC is currently reviewing.)

TBD in my mind whether or not a broad and impactful infrastructure package will be fully produced and passed out of Congress anytime soon, especially given the major tax bill finalized late last year and all of the back-and-forth on both the annual appropriations package and immigration. It may be that Members of Congress up for re-election will want to focus on what has already happened (either positively or negatively, depending on their perspective) and not do much more legislating. My guess is that there will be a plethora of hearings on issues related to infrastructure in the various committees involved (and we’ve already started to see that trend), which will lay out the groundwork on the record for any potential legislation in future years.

To be clear, I would love to see an infrastructure package move ahead, but am being realistic about the timing and prospects. Regardless of whether or not legislation passes in the short -or long- term, though, the hype and presidential and congressional attention will enable us to educate policy makers on our issues without 20 other issues crowding the field. That’s good news.

From the Oxford Dictionary definition: infrastructures (plural noun) the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities (e.g., buildings, roads, and power supplies) needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.

I love the fact that this definition (also a “google” miracle and the first one that came up) includes as an example “power supplies” because, of course, electric power is a key component needed to “operate…society.” Nonetheless, often policy makers overlook electric and gas infrastructure when talking about the broader term. (Water is usually in the mix.) So, UTC’s first order of business will be to continue to ensure that policy makers understand our infrastructure needs – poles, telecom, broadband, rights of ways, towers, distributed- and centrally-located power resources – and how legislation or regulatory changes could help (or hurt) that infrastructure. I do not agree with the President’s assertion in the SOTU that our infrastructure in its entirety is “crumbling.” To be sure in the energy and water sectors, some of it is aging and in need of replacement, but some of it is still in great shape even when it is aging (our hydropower dams are decades old and working really well, for example). Some needs better maintenance, and some needs replacement, but it’s not one-size-fits all.

Besides needed help to streamline permitting and rights-of-way across federal lands, much of the need in our space at the federal level is really related to telecom and technology (and I really don’t think I am being myopic about this…). The electric sector has invested billions in telecom and IT networks (and the related cybersecurity) to deploy greater levels of “smart” technology (machine-to-machine communications) into our wholesale and retail power grids in order to both aid reliability/resiliency, but also to incorporate variable resources, battery storage, demand response and electric vehicles into various parts of the grid. That investment and what it actually means from a policy standpoint must be more fully understood by policy makers – and we have that opportunity now. Pole attachment policy is broken, spectrum policy is as well – both of these have major impacts on our infrastructure.

The bottom line is, infrastructure means electric, gas and water utilities as wells as roads, bridges, lochs and dams. I look forward to working with our members, partners like EEI, NRECA, APPA, AGA, AWWA, NACL, API (and others) and the UTC staff to make that clear in the coming months…so by the next SOTU we’ll have made great progress (but I still won’t watch).