“American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act” Pivotal Part of Conservative Pro-Growth Agenda
Today marks the beginning of considerations for a long-awaited game changer in energy & infrastructure policy, the “American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act”: a bill that dedicates oil & gas royalties to funding the nation’s transportation system, reduces long environmental review processes, and shifts more control over infrastructure development to states and private companies.
A marathon markup in the House Committee on Natural Resources considered three pieces of legislation to open domestic resources and raise royalty revenues that will finance investments in the national transportation infrastructure. The first bill, from Rep. Doug Lamborn, would accelerate the research and development of commercially-elusive oil shale resources in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. A second, from Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, would open up drilling in a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a resource-laden but environmentally sensitive area on Alaska’s North Slope. The final piece would expand development of the Outer Continental Shelf, specifically portions of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, Alaska’s Bristol Bay, and the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and was offered by Rep. Steve Stivers. All three energy bills were successfully passed out of Committee, despite considerable opposition and numerous amendments from Democratic members.
Tomorrow, the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee will consider the accompanying 5-year infrastructure bill. The language includes considerations to expedite environmental reviews that can hold up major infrastructure investments – and related jobs – and deliver new authorities to the states to determine how to spend transportation dollars. Importantly, this package also promises to be earmark-free. If passed as intended, this language is a meaningful departure from the existing, largely federally-directed, oft-earmarked investment system that brought us the infamous Road to Nowhere.
To be sure, this legislation is not without controversy, even among conservatives. The choice to use energy royalty revenues to fund roads, and not just gas tax revenues, divorces our investment decisions from the historic and effective user-pays principle. In the absence of political will (or public interest) to raise the gas tax and finance new infrastructure, however, this bill marks a substantial move by House Republicans to offer innovative solutions to pressing American problems. As Speaker Boehner put it, “this bill represents a new vision: Repair infrastructure through a streamlined process, with zero earmarks, and no tax hikes – and help pay for it by allowing expansion of American energy production.”
While negotiations on a final transportation bill with the Senate may not go smoothly – there is very little support in that body to use energy revenues to finance improvements, and the Senate version funds infrastructure for only two years – at least House Republicans are acting in good faith to offer truly innovative solutions to long-standing problems. With Senate Democrats and the president sitting on the sidelines, this is the best chance we have to get Americans back to work in energy and infrastructure, reduce the strain of infrastructure spending, and improve transparency with a smaller, smarter government.