July 2019, Vol. 246, No. 7


First Infrastructure Bill Emerges in Congress

By Stephen Barlas, Contributing Editor

WASHINGTON — House Democrats have introduced the first infrastructure package in Congress, and it would make significant new investments in broadband deployment and drinking water systems, among other areas. All 31 Democrats on the House Energy & Commerce Committee sponsored the LIFT America Act (H.R. 2741) which had a hearing in front of that committee on May 22. 

The bill, with a $40 billion price tag, only touches on programs in that committee’s jurisdiction. It does not address funding for roads and bridges, for example, nor does it provide a funding source. 

There is one interesting, unexplained gas pipeline provision in the bill. It would authorize $1.5 billion for “assistance for low-income communities to support methane pipeline replacement.” The committee’s spokesman did not respond to a request for further details on that provision. Methane is the most potent greenhouse gas, and Democratic leaders are trying to inject the LIFT bill with political momentum by marrying its infrastructure and “climate change” appeals.  

Elgie Holstein, senior director for Strategic Planning, Environmental Defense Fund, said the concept was raised in meetings at the Energy Department during the Obama Administration, meetings attended by environmental and pipeline representatives. 

He said the issue relates to distribution, not transmission, pipelines in cities with high percentages of low-income residents where the distribution companies argue raising rates to pay for methane leak plugging would hurt gas consumers unable to pay for the improvements. The idea is for the federal government to subsidize the distribution company capital expenditures.

At the hearings on May 22, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chairman of the committee and the key sponsor of the LIFT America Act, which he also introduced in the last Congress, said he hoped he would get Republican support for his bill. 

The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.) conceded that there were some good provisions in the bill, but he worried about a rush to spend money on projects that were not ready to go, which is what he said happened when Congress passed the 2009 stimulus package and ostensible “shovel-ready” projects were nowhere near ready to go. He particularly cited the Recovery Act’s spending on broadband deployment, where funds were appropriated prior to any national mapping being done to determine where underserved areas were located.   

While Walden applauded some of what is in the Pallone bill, he also highlighted what the bill was missing, in his view, specifically pipeline permitting reform. There he repeatedly alluded to the need in New England for sources of natural gas and the difficulties of getting new pipelines built as permits have been delayed or disapproved, most often by state environmental departments. However, the EDF’s Holstein answers “emphatically not” when asked whether he thinks pipeline permitting reform should be part of an infrastructure package. P&GJ

Related Articles


{{ error }}
{{ comment.comment.Name }} • {{ comment.timeAgo }}
{{ comment.comment.Text }}