On Monday, House Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) introduced draft legislation that would implement sweeping infrastructure reform.  Chairman Shuster claim’s his proposal will reform the burdensome permitting process for new infrastructure projects and promote infrastructure spending.  

Chairman Shuster’s bill would authorize the National Infrastructure Investment Program (NIIP) to make new investments in surface transportation infrastructure and direct the Secretary of Transportation to award competitive grants for eligible infrastructure projects.  The bill would require the Secretary of Transportation to allocate 30 percent of annual grant awards for infrastructure projects in rural areas.

The bill would overhaul the environmental regulatory and review process, particular with respect to water infrastructure.  Section 211 of the discussion draft would reauthorize the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) and reorganize certain WIFIA programs and the Army Corps of Engineers.  This section includes language that would streamline the WIFIA loan application process for State Infrastructure Financing Authorities and promote state infrastructure investment.  In section 212, Chairman Shuster’s bill would amend the Clean Water Act (CWA) and authorize the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to award grants that finance wastewater infrastructure in rural, small, and tribal towns. In addition, the bill’s water title authorizes programs at the EPA that provide technical assistance and grants to small towns to carry out watershed pilot projects.

The discussion draft does not include dedicated funding for broadband deployment, or any language that facilitates rural broadband deployment.  Although there is no dedicated language for broadband, Chairman Shuster’s bill would accelerate infrastructure project completion through permitting and regulatory review reforms.  To this effect, Chairman Shuster’s proposal would:

  • Establish a pilot program to streamline the environmental review process;
  • Amend section 401 of the CWA to reduce state water quality requirements; and,
  • Designate the National Surface Transportation and Innovative Finance Bureau (Bureau) as the responsible entity within the Department of Transportation (DOT) to accelerate infrastructure project delivery.  The Bureau would be authorized to assist state governments throughout the federal environmental review process.

Chairman Shuster will retire at the end of his term in January and it is unlikely Congress will consider, let alone pass, his bill before the midterm elections or during the lame-duck session. The bill faces long-odds but Chairman Shuster’s proposal could serve as the blueprint for future infrastructure legislation.