Utility Contractor

SEP-OCT 2018

As the official magazine of NUCA, Utility Contractor presents the latest information affecting every aspect of the utility construction industry, including technological advancements, safety issues, legislative developments and instructional advice.

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Utility Contractor 35 By Bryce Mongeon RF, the draft proposal reauthorizes and funds the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loan pro- gram. The legislation would authorize $50 million per year through 2024. There has been a great deal of interest in WIFIA, and its inclusion in this pro- posal indicates continued support for the program. The discussion draft also includes regulatory reforms to Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, which some states have used to delay and prevent the issu- ance of water quality certifications that are necessary for FERC-permitted proj- ects. Specifically, the bill would clarify the scope of requirements a state may consider when examining an applica- tion. This legislation would ensure that states limit their examination of an ap- plication to the pertinent federal and state water quality laws. Apart from these provisions that address water infrastructure, Chair- man Shuster's proposal also addresses the long-term stability of the HTF. As NUCA members know, the HTF is set to become insolvent in 2021. To fix this, this legislation would provide for a short-term solution by increasing the existing federal gas tax and diesel fuel tax by 15 cents and 20 cents per gal- lon, respectively, over three years. After calendar year 2021, the taxes would be indexed to inflation through 2028. For the long term, the bill would es- tablish a "Highway Trust Fund Com- mission" that would be responsible for crafting a report to Congress with recommendations for the long-term stability of the HTF. Congress could then consider these recommendations as legislation under expedited proce- dures. Importantly, the discussion draft prohibits the commission from recom- mending a continuation or expansion of the gas tax as a long-term solution. Essentially, Chairman Shuster's plan re- quires a new combination of funding mechanisms for the HTF. One potential funding source could be a per-mile user fee, and the draft bill provides for the establishment of a pilot program to test this idea. In addition to these provisions, the Chairman's draft legislation includes oth- er provisions designed to streamline the project approval process, promote pub- lic-private partnerships, and enable new financing mechanisms. Taken together, these represent a strong starting point for discussions of an infrastructure package. While Chairman Shuster has put together a thoughtful proposal, given the midterm elections coming up in November, as well as Congress' chal- lenges in moving any large legislative package, it is extremely unlikely that this legislation will be passed before the end of this year. In particular, a majority of members are unlikely to come out in favor of the HTF solution in this legislation because they oppose any increase in the gas tax. Further- more, given that Democrats have a better than even chance of taking the House majority, they are unlikely to cut a deal when they might soon have a better negotiating position. With that said, it is important for NUCA to highlight the positive aspects of Chairman Shuster's plan, and con- tinue to engage our lawmakers and hold them accountable to their stated support for infrastructure. Bryce Mongeon is Director of Govern- ment Relations for the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA).

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