New Funding Authority For Water Infrastructure Moves Forward In Senate

May 2013, Vol. 68 No. 5

The interest rates paid by WIFIA loan recipients could be a tad higher than the interest rates offered by state SRFs; but SRF loans are generally available to small and medium-sized projects only. The water fund would be based on an existing Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (commonly called TIFIA). The beauty of these infrastructure funds is that Congress only has to appropriate enough money to cover the "subsidy" cost of providing the low-interest Treasury loan.

Pipeline infrastructure shortfalls key to gas/electric interconnection concerns
Concern in Congress about insufficient interstate pipeline infrastructure has prompted imminent introduction of a bill to speed up construction applications at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The bill would force federal agencies required to provide input on a pipeline's environmental impact to meet deadlines for submitting comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). An increasing reliance on natural gas by electric utilities has sparked worries about pipeline bottlenecks, particularly in New England and the Midwest. Those concerns were expressed at hearings in the House Energy & Commerce Committee's subcommittee on energy and power which took place on March 19.

At those hearings, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), a member of the Energy and Power Subcommittee, referred to a February 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) which reported that FERC does not track the time it takes for a construction permit to be approved because the agency believes that information has "limited usefulness." Doing its own research, the GAO found that for those projects that were approved from January 2010 to October 2012, the average time from pre-filing to certification was 558 days; the average time for those projects that began at the application phase was 225 days.

Two FERC commissioners testified at the hearings: Philip Moeller and Cheryl LaFleur. Pompeo asked them whether FERC should keep statistics on how long it takes to approve a new pipeline. Both answered "yes." Then he asked whether they were aware that an INGAA report said that 20 percent of pipelines experience delays of six months or more after a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review of the application is completed. NEPA requires environmental impact statements on a project which, in the case of pipelines, means that FERC must wait for input from agencies around the government, such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, to name one. Those agencies often drag their feet.