By Kelsey Tamborrino | 02/13/2018 10:00 AM EDT
With help from Darius Dixon, Annie Snider and Ben Lefebvre
WHERE'S THE ENERGY? While water, roads and airports all get special attention in the White House's new infrastructure plan, the electric grid was largely ignored in the 55-page document the White House rolled out Monday - despite the system's age and the challenges to building it. The plan says nothing about modernizing ailing electric transmission systems to account for factors such as the growth of natural gas, renewable power and electric vehicles, issues that have long been a focus of grid planners and a priority of the previous administration. "This plan ignores American energy and transportation needs of today - as well as tomorrow. It does not modernize our grid so we can reach more distributed energy. It does not plan for advanced vehicles to be on our roads," said Grant Carlisle advocacy director of E2, an affiliate of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It is unfortunately just not a forward-looking document."
Where the plan does touch on electric issues, it revives a proposal to sell off transmission facilities owned by the Energy Department's power marketing administrations and the Tennessee Valley Authority. OMB thinks those sales would raise $7.4 billion for federal coffers over five years and encourage a more efficient transmission system. But when the White House floated the idea last year, it faced bipartisan opposition from senators worried it would increase power prices in a large swath of the West. The White House plan also calls for Congress to change the Federal Power Act to allow other federal agencies that participate in a FERC NEPA proceeding as a "cooperating agency" in an effort to streamline applications for interstate natural gas pipelines.
WHAT DID MAKE IT: President Donald Trump's infrastructure proposal leans heavily on states, local governments and the private sector to foot most of its bill. The White House is calling for just $200 billion in federal funding, which it hopes will leverage $1.3 trillion in other investment over the next decade, but the pitch faces long odds on Capitol Hill. Here's a rundown of some other highlights:
Privatizing water infrastructure: The plan would make a number of tweaks aimed at easing private investment and ownership of drinking water and wastewater facilities - a move that public health advocates argue could lead to unaffordable rates. Municipal water utilities are so far skeptical of the plan, arguing that the proposal is overly ambitious in how much private funding can be drawn to the sector and pointing out that states and municipalities already bear the lion's share of the cost for water projects. But they are cheering one idea in it: lengthening pollution discharge permits from five years to 15 and allowing automatic renewal "if the water quality needs do not require more stringent permit limits."
Gaga for WIFIA: The proposal would expand WIFIA, the innovative financing program authorized in 2014 that Congress loves since it can leverage a small appropriation for orders of magnitude more in credit assistance. Despite the fact that the program has yet to make its first loan, the Trump proposal would expand it to privately owned infrastructure as well as Superfund and brownfields programs.
Park upgrades paid for by energy leasing: The infrastructure plan would give Interior a mechanism to repair and maintain some of its holdings. Even though the White House would slash Interior's overall budget by more than 16 percent, it would establish a Public Lands Infrastructure Fund paid for with money from new land leasing and royalties on energy production. Interior said the fund will rake in $805 million to put toward National Park Service's estimated backlog of $11.6 billion backlog of repair and maintenance projects. Another $891 million would go toward the Bureau of Reclamation's water systems and new capital construction plans.
Environmental reviews: The proposal asks Congress to get the permitting process down to two years, through quicker NEPA reviews. It wants to limit projects getting held up in court by reducing the statute of limitations to sue from six years down to 150 days. And it wants to stop EPA from vetoing wetlands permits.
But don't hold your breath for these changes anytime soon: Most would require congressional approval, and Senate Democrats would likely be able to block anything as ambitious as the administration's proposal.
SPOTTED: Trump held a meeting on infrastructure with state and local officials on Monday. Also in the room? EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
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