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How Congress can create a better infrastructure bill

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

Recent news reports and statements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggest that there will be another stimulus bill later this spring or in the summer. Any infrastructure bill is likely to include funds and language encouraging projects but Congress is unlikely to revisit partisan arguments over revisions to current laws that affect Federal permitting including the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Dawson & Associates has successfully assisted many water infrastructure project sponsors secure Congressional authorizations and appropriations. But this is a lengthy process, even for communities at significant risk, and requires experience in navigating multiple regulatory hurdles. 

But there are some things Congress could include in a new infrastructure bill that could facilitate “shovel ready” projects while minimizing costs. Here are a few:

1. Reduce Federal conflict on Mississippi River flooding projects. Disagreements between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency slow progress, raise costs and increase risks for people living along the Mississippi River. For example, the Yazoo Backwater Pumps, which were authorized and even under construction back in 1986, were stopped and eventually vetoed by EPA in 2008. Congress should direct that these move into the construction phase.

2. Improve funding efficiency. Most Army Corps of Engineer projects are reviewed and funded annually. This method makes it difficult to direct a construction contractor working on critical infrastructure over a multi-year duration since there is always uncertainty about how much Congress will appropriate in the future. Congress should fully fund all Army Corps construction contracts. Knowing the stream of future funding will make the current complex contacting method simpler and create savings of time and money for taxpayer

3. Resolve hydroelectric dam issues on the Snake and Columbia Rivers. There have been endless studies on hydroelectric dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers over many decades. The challenge has involved the Environmental Impact Statement and the tradeoff of clean, abundant electricity to the Pacific Northwest and the impacts to salmon and other critical fisheries. This continued discussion has created a divided public and encouraged a lack of trust. Congress could make these dams part of a national critical infrastructure. This would take the issue away from the courts and allow other methods to be explored for the fisheries.

Maj. Gen. (ret) Michael Walsh

Senior Advisor

A member of the Dawson team since 2019, Michael Walsh served as Deputy Commanding General for Civil and Emergency Operations and commander of three divisions in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dawson & Associates.


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