A Tale of Two Hearings, Part I

Congress is holding two hearings at the same time on infrastructure. Will one be a waste?

Pre-Hearing: The House is addressing the problem. Is the Senate wasting time?

On March 6, 2019, the House Ways and Means Committee is addressing infrastructures obvious problem—funding our infrastructure needs.

The Senate at the very same time, may be playing a diversionary game by concentrating on “project delivery.”

Over the past 10 years or more, the problem with our failing infrastructure has been the inability of Congress to find permanent funding. Instead, Congress has passed several water and transportation bills that kicked the can down the road on addressing the need for federal investment. Today, the gas tax, the sustaining source of funding our nation’s highway system, has lost over 74% versus inflation. 

Instead of addressing the funding issue, the Congress has wasted its time addressing a diversionary issue—project delays theoretically caused by environmental reviews and permitting. Although study after study has shown that the problems with delays are money and not environmental reviews, congress has weakened environmental reviews with amendments in 2005, 2012, 2014 and 2015. Some of these changes have been at cross purposes and contradict one another. Guidance to assist the public and federal officials in completing environmental reviews, has been withdrawn by the President. None of the highway bills going back to 1993 have addressed funding of infrastructure but did try to undermine public input into project decisions. 

Despite all this action, addressing the scapegoat goes on and on as I have discussed here, and here.

For instance, the Treasury Department did a study of 40 projects to try to determine why they were delayed. Of the 40 projects, 39 were delayed for money from either federal, state or local sources. The last project had funding, but the interstate project could not get agreement between the two governors. But it was ironic that two Senators cited that study for the need for more “streamlining.”

Is the Senate going to once again waste its time on my “steamrolling” and avoiding the real question of “Where is the Money?”

 One of the key principles of environmental reviews is that the public have a say when the federal government is going to do something that would affect the environment or economy of a community. Curtailing that public input is counterproductive to good projects and public acceptance.

In the last congress, the House Republicans had a hearing on project delivery for water projects. This hearing attacked the environmental review process. But the Committee Republican memo stated the truth: the Army Corps had over $90 billion worth of projects ready to go with completed environmental reviews, but had a construction budget of $5 billion. The problem was MONEY not project reviews.

The title of the Senate hearing is: “The Economic Benefits of Highway Infrastructure Investment and Accelerated Project Delivery.” The question is whether the Senators will waste their time beating the dead horse or hopefully at least concentrate the first half of the hearing title, the economic benefits of highway infrastructure investment. History gives us little reason for optimism.


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