Your Congress in Action: Vol. 33

08/02/2021 12:49 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

Your Congress in Action is a series that highlights the Capitol Hill news that affects CRM firms the most. Be sure to subscribe to the ACRAsphere to ensure you don't miss an update.

After months of negotiating, posturing and near-death experiences, Congress is poised to pass a massive infrastructure bill that could reshape many aspects of the U.S. economy, including for the CRM industry.

A bipartisan group of Senators came to agreement with the White House last week on a nearly trillion-dollar, 2700 page-long bill that includes more than $550 billion in new spending on roads, bridges, broadband and a host of other long-neglected infrastructure needs. The bill easily cleared its first procedural hurdles last week, overcoming a filibuster with room to spare as 17 GOP Senators joined with all Democrats to move ahead on the bill. The Senate is now starting to hear amendments to the bill, with the hopes of passing it by the end of the week.

The bill would provide:

  • $110 billion for roads, highways and bridges
  • $66 billion in passenger and freight rail
  • $39 billion to modernize public transit
  • $7.5 billion to create the first federal network of charging stations for electric vehicles
  • $65 billion to expand broadband Internet access
  • $55 billion for water infrastructure
  • $46 billion for resiliency, including cybersecurity as well as programs to protect and mitigate against natural disasters
  • $55 billion to improve the country’s drinking water, including a program that seeks to replace every lead pipe in America
  • $25 billion for repairs at major airports
  • $73 billion to modernize the nation’s energy grid
  • $21 billion to respond to environmental concerns, including pollution

The bill also makes permanent permit streamlining reforms Congress first enacted six years ago. FAST-41 significantly reformed the federal infrastructure permitting process, creating the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council, which brings together agencies at the start of the permitting process for large, complicated infrastructure projects to prepare a comprehensive permitting plan across agencies. The bill will make FAST-41 permanent, expand FAST-41 benefits to tribal projects, set a two-year goal for permitting covered projects, and encourage federal agencies to use one document to track permitting decisions ("One Federal Decision”).

The potential impact of the bill on the CRM industry is sizable: the infrastructure projects that the bill will create will be subject to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, creating work for CRM firms – as well as increased burdens on state and tribal historic preservation offices (S/THPOs), which already are facing increased demands for their services.

The rising workload for S/THPOs is one reason why ACRA and its allies successfully lobbied the House to include, in its transportation bill, a permanent authorization and increased funding levels for the Historic Preservation Fund. The House-passed provision, proposed by Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM), increases the amount authorized to be spent from the Fund each year from the current $150 million to $300 million and changes the law so that Congress will no longer need to renew the Fund every few years for it to continue. ACRA and its allies are working to build support for the provision in the Senate.

Getting the infrastructure bill passed by the Senate will be an impressive feat, but that does not mean the bill will enjoy smooth sailing from then on. The bill still needs to pass the House, where numerous members of the Democratic majority are unhappy that the bill does not include more investments in fighting climate change, advancing racial equity and helping workers. They are pressuring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to hold up the bipartisan bill until Senate Democrats pass a separate, larger social infrastructure bill which the Senate is likely to take up in the fall. House Democrats also want to have the opportunity to amend the Senate bill, but the Senate and White House are concerned that any changes the House makes to the bill could upend the delicate bipartisan agreement. That said, considering the amount of political capital that President Biden has put into getting the infrastructure bill passed (and into demonstrating that bipartisanship is still possible in Washington), most observers agree that it is only a matter of time before the infrastructure bill gets to Biden’s desk for his signature.

Meanwhile, progress continues on other issues of importance to CRM. Last week the House approved the annual appropriations (funding) bill for the Department of Interior and other agencies for the new fiscal year that starts in October. In that bill, the House provides nearly $156 million for the Historic Preservation Fund; if that level makes it through the Senate, it would represent the largest single-year amount ever appropriated for the Fund.

The House also approved legislation backed by ACRA that would provide free passes to national parks and other federal lands to active servicemembers, veterans and Gold Star Families. The bill, the Veterans in Parks (VIP) Act (H.R. 4300), passed 420-0, with every Republican and Democrat voting aye. Granted, legislation to help soldiers and veterans enjoy national parks should not be the least bit controversial. But the unanimous vote – like the infrastructure bill – shows that bipartisanship in Washington is not entirely dead.

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