Trump offers $200B for infrastructure, looks to Congress for details

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, March 12, 2019

President Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget request offers a window into his administration’s thinking on infrastructure policy, as Congress looks to move a broad infrastructure package by late spring.

It’s a big change from last year.

When the fiscal 2019 budget request came out last spring, the White House was pushing a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that relied heavily on leveraging investment from the private sector.

This year, the White House is sitting on the sidelines, and the ball is in Congress’ court. Lawmakers are hoping to muscle through a broad infrastructure bill by May, although significant hurdles remain (E&E Daily, March 7).

With a nod toward the talks on the Hill, the president’s budget request would provide a down payment of $200 billion for “infrastructure priorities,” according to a fact sheet released by the White House.

“The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to develop a package that will significantly improve the Nation’s infrastructure, and the Budget includes $200 billion towards this effort,” the fact sheet says.

A $1 billion slice would go toward the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grants program, formerly known as the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants program. The Trump administration had proposed eliminating the program for the past two years.

And a $2 billion slice would go toward the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant program, which helps fund large projects that relieve congestion on the nation’s strategic freight networks.

The Department of Transportation would also receive $83.6 billion, a decrease from this year’s enacted level of $86.2 billion.

Of that total, the Federal Highway Administration would receive $47.4 billion, a drop from the current enacted level of $49.2 billion, according to a DOT summary.

Just as with myriad other elements of the budget request, congressional appropriators are likely to reject the proposed cuts and maintain DOT’s funding at similar levels.

The budget request also stresses the need for streamlining the permitting process for large infrastructure projects, a priority for the Trump administration.

To that end, it calls for improving NOAA’s capacity to complete environmental reviews for permitting applications under the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection acts.

“Allocating additional funding to this initiative would allow NOAA to reduce the burden on the regulated community by providing more timely, consistent and clear consultations and authorizations,” the White House fact sheet says, “resulting in faster reviews and a reduced backlog for permits, including those supporting energy, oil and gas, and transportation projects.”

D.J. Gribbin, who served as Trump’s infrastructure adviser before exiting the White House last year, praised the budget request’s focus on infrastructure.

“The President’s plan takes the right approach to addressing our nation’s infrastructure deficit by tackling head-on current policies that restrict the ability for us to develop the quality infrastructure Americans deserve,” Gribbin said in an email.

View from the Hill

Two key lawmakers today expressed hope that a broad infrastructure bill would materialize by late spring, although they recognized the challenges ahead.

Speaking at a Politico event this morning, Reps. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) and Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) both struck a note of cautious optimism.

Carbajal is vice chairman of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee; Davis is ranking member of the T&I Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

Asked whether a bill could move by May, Carbajal said: “I think it’s a little ambitious, but if you don’t have an ambitious timeline, you’ll never get to it. So while ambitious, I think it’s good to shoot for something that keeps the momentum and the energy behind it.”

Davis agreed, saying: “I know that May is probably ambitious, but that’s our goal. And if we don’t have a goal, we’re never going to accomplish it.”

Moderator Sam Mintz, a Politico transportation reporter and former E&E News energy reporter, asked the lawmakers how an infrastructure bill could address climate change.

Democrats and environmentalists are pushing for the bill to include climate components such as resilience, energy efficiency and electric vehicles (Climatewire, March 11).

“I think we need to provide incentives so that communities can step up to the plate and put in resilient design in all their infrastructure, be it to address sea-level rise, be it to address energy efficiency,” Carbajal said, adding, “I think you’re going to see that whatever we do is going to include resiliency in it.”

It remains to be seen whether lawmakers will succeed at passing the broad package or simply reauthorize the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, which is set to expire in 2020.