Expect Federal Funding Cuts, New Regs In 2011

New Congress Will Impact Underground Infrastructure
By Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor | February 2011, Vol. 66 No. 2

Federal infrastructure funding already took a hit when Congress allowed the Build America Bonds (BAB) program, created by the 2009 stimulus bill, to expire at the end of 2010. The program subsidized the interest rates cities and counties paid to investors who purchased bonds used to finance local infrastructure projects such as sewers. The BAB program was not renewed in the second stimulus package Congress passed last December. Although Republicans such as Rep. Dan Mica (R-FL), incoming chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, have talked about their desire to refund the program, that decision would have to be made by a new House Ways & Means Committee chairman, Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), who is said to be against resurrecting the BAB program because it would expand the federal deficit.

Reform
Non-funding programs of interest to the underground construction community also expired at the end of 2010, and were not renewed. But here the issue is less funding and more reform of the programs to make them work better. That is the case with the 2006 Pipeline Inspection, Protection, Enforcement and Safety Act (PIPES Act), where underground construction companies might actually want Congress to expand regulation, which would have to be done via a reauthorization of that law. Democrats had dipped their toes in those waters in September 2010 when House and Senate members, plus the Obama administration, proposed modifications to the 2006 PIPES Act in the wake of the deadly pipeline explosion in San Bruno, CA, where seven people were killed when a PG&E pipeline exploded. Those proposed bills contained provisions to heighten awareness of communities, local governments and excavators about where pipelines are located.

"The reauthorization of the 2006 pipeline law is something we will be working on in the 112th Congress," reports Justin Harclerode, communications director for Rep. Mica. The chances of Congress passing a new pipeline safety bill could be enhanced by publication of the preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report on the San Bruno accident.