Leaked Trump plan pushes private investment, cleanups

Source: Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Trump administration appears to be moving its wheels on infrastructure, and it’s banking on help from state and local governments and the private sector.

A draft version of the long-awaited White House infrastructure plan was leaked and published by Axios this afternoon. It lays out a series of “funding principles.”

The six-page draft is relatively light on specifics and does not include much in the way of legislative language, as some in Congress would have hoped.

Still, it marks the first real steps toward fleshing out an infrastructure proposal that the administration has been promising for months.

Republicans have been floating ideas to have the federal government invest $200 billion during the next 10 years, which would turn into $1 trillion with incentivized investment.

The draft White House document largely conforms to that ideal, though it does not specify how much money would ultimately be appropriated.

The proposal would put half the money toward an “Infrastructure Incentives Initiative,” which would provide grants to encourage investment in surface transportation, airports, rail, flood control and a variety of other projects.

A lead federal agency would solicit grant applications from state, local and tribal governments, as well as private companies and contractors, every six months.

The grants would make up a maximum of 20 percent of the project cost and would be chosen based on factors like potential return on investment.

The plan would also designate 10 percent of the federal appropriated money for high-risk, high-reward transportation, clean water and energy projects.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said earlier this month that such “transformative projects” would incorporate the rise of driverless vehicles and other emerging technologies (Greenwire, Jan. 11).

Another quarter of the federal investment would go toward infrastructure development in rural communities, according to the leaked plan.

In the energy sector, the document points to funding for several areas, including hydropower and innovative energy projects, as well as rural generation, transmission and distribution facilities.

The draft would also provide additional incentives to clean up the nation’s most polluted properties. Those include creating a new revolving loan fund for Superfund projects, making it easier to create special accounts for cleanups, and reducing the liability of state and local governments when they acquire contaminated property.

Road ahead

The plan is expected to be formally unveiled by the end of the month, either before or after President Trump delivers his first State of the Union address on Jan. 30.

“We are not going to comment on the contents of a leaked document but look forward to presenting our plan in the near future,” said White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters.

It remains to be seen, however, when the proposal will turn into legislation and whether it will be able to garner enough bipartisan support to clear a 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

Democrats, and even some Republicans, have expressed skepticism over the past few weeks about turning the initial federal investment into $1 trillion after contributions from states and the private sector.

“I continue to be intrigued with the idea of turning $200 billion into $1 trillion in order to pay for this infrastructure project,” Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member Tom Carper (D-Del.) said after a meeting with Chao on Capitol Hill earlier this month (E&E Daily, Jan. 10).

“I know in talking to my Republican colleagues there’s a fair amount of skepticism, as well,” Carper added.

Hints about permitting reform are sprinkled throughout the draft plan, though the mechanisms of how to provide more flexibility to bypass environmental laws are generally left vague.

If and when congressional lawmakers produce a bill, streamlining infrastructure permits is likely to be a major factor. It’s an issue especially popular with Carper and his counterpart on the EPW Committee, Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

“Any infrastructure plan should include streamlining so that projects get started and finished faster,” Barrasso said in a statement today. “I will continue to work with the president, the members of our committee, and the House of Representatives as we continue this important process.”

Reporters Corbin Hiar, Sam Mintz and Kevin Bogardus contributed.