Tuesday, October 20, 2020

House Democrats Introduce $1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

Emel Akan June 19, 2020 clean energy, House Democrats, infrastructure, permitting, Politics, US Comments Off on House Democrats Introduce $1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

WASHINGTON—House Democrats introduced on June 18 an extensive plan to renew American infrastructure, calling for more than $1.5 trillion investment in roads, bridges, public transportation, housing, clean energy, and other projects.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) touted the bill, called the Moving Forward Act, at a press conference, saying that it would build the infrastructure “in a green and resilient way.”

She said the House would vote on the legislation before a July 4 congressional recess.

The plan includes more than $300 billion of investment in renewing roads and bridges and $100 billion in transit to zero-emission buses. It triples the funding for Amtrak to $29 billion, allowing for upgrades and expansion of the rail network.

The package also includes $100 billion for high-poverty schools, to help 1.9 million Americans get back to work as states gradually lift their stay-at-home orders. In addition, it addresses the broadband gap in rural America and the nation’s housing inequality.

“It’s job-creating in its essence but it’s also commerce-promoting. So it grows the economy of our country,” Pelosi said.

The plan also prioritizes combatting the climate crisis and expanding clean energy projects, with an investment of more than $70 billion on renewable energy. It also plans to modernize U.S. postal service infrastructure, which includes a zero-emission postal vehicle fleet.

“This is the application of the principles of the Green New Deal,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said during the press conference, responding to the criticisms raised by Republicans who called the bill “Green New Deal 2.0.”

“And this proves that we can both deal with climate change, fossil fuel pollution, and actually create millions of new high-paying American jobs. That is the promise of this legislation,” he added.

The plan, however, doesn’t address reducing red tape and improving permitting efficiency for infrastructure projects, which has long been a priority for the Trump administration.

The National Association of Manufacturers released a letter on June 16 asking Democrats to support the codification of a “One Federal Decision” approach introduced by the administration to streamline environmental reviews and the permitting process.

In response to a question by The Epoch Times, DeFazio said there were no plans to reduce red tape in permitting.

“We adopted substantial permitting reforms in both MAP-21 about a decade ago, and the FAST Act five years ago. The Department of Transportation has yet to fully implement and or utilize that streamlining,” he said.

“We’ve reached a point where 93 percent of federally funded highway projects and transit projects go forward with an environmental exemption. Four percent go through environmental analysis—a relatively simple process. And despite what some say that all the delays are due to environmental laws, 3 percent are so large and have such an impact—many of them very controversial that they go through a full NEPA process, National Environmental Policy Act.”

President Donald Trump introduced a plan in January to expedite the permitting process for major infrastructure projects, proposing reforms to the NEPA.

On June 4, he signed an executive order to expedite the permitting process, providing flexibility to agencies for complying with the NEPA in emergency situations.

“The Trump administration would like to eliminate the national NEPA. They can’t. It’s not necessary in order to facilitate infrastructure,” DeFazio said.

He added that 60 percent of infrastructure projects, that is “1.8 percent of all federally funded projects,” have to go through a full environmental review process and “some of them are incredibly controversial.”

He noted that it’s better to “go through the full NEPA process, which actually involves public involvement and public input and ultimately involves litigation, which will delay things.”

To fund the plan, House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said they have proposed a combination of government-subsidized bonds, private equity bonds, and “some borrowing.”

“We think that on the revenue side, we’re open to some discussions and negotiations,” he added.

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