Trump puts price tag on infrastructure plan, calls for private sector investment

In his first State of the Union address, President Donald Trump on Tuesday proposed at least a $1.5 trillion investment in improvements to U.S. infrastructure, noting it as a top priority for his administration in the coming year while criticizing the current pace of needed construction projects.

“I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable and modern infrastructure that our economy needs and our people deserve,” Trump said. “America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years to just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?”

As is typical with past presidents’ State of the Union addresses, Trump did not directly address water or wastewater infrastructure, but did call for an infrastructure package to engage the private sector to help close the investment gap — a major topic of conversation across the water sector.

“Tonight I’m calling on Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment that our country so desperately needs,” Trump said. “Every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments, and where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit.”

The president also stressed timeliness of passing an infrastructure package and getting projects shovel-ready.

“Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process, getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one,” Trump said. “We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways all across our land, and we will do it with American heart, American hands and American grit.” The president’s comment about rebuilding ‘waterways’ was the closest reference to anything water-related in his statements about infrastructure.

Trump also used his comments on infrastructure to tout its job creation benefits, stressing the importance of job training and workforce development — another area with widespread needs across the construction industry.

What Does It Mean for Water?

Water sector organizations are reacting favorably to the president’s comments on getting to work on U.S. infrastructure.

“The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) is pleased that last night, in his State of the Union address, President Trump committed to an infrastructure package of at least $1.5 trillion and committed to working with local governments – such as NACWA’s public clean water utility members – to make these investments a reality,” said Adam Krantz, CEO of NACWA in a statement. “These are investments that are sorely needed.

“However, NACWA is disappointed that the president did not specifically identify drinking water and clean water systems as recipients for these infrastructure funds. For decades, water infrastructure has largely been ignored as communities across the country have grappled with challenges to provide clean water to growing populations. Last night’s speech was an important step forward to addressing the broad infrastructure needs of the nation, but more attention must be paid to water infrastructure specifically to truly elevate water as a national priority.”

Michael Deane, executive director of the National Association of Water Companies, which represents private water companies, also released a statement on Trump’s infrastructure agenda.

“Tonight, President Trump called on ‘both parties to come together to give us safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure that our economy needs and our people deserve,’” Deane said. “Indeed, failing and noncompliant water systems are a financial drain on our economy and pose significant risks to public health and the environment.

“The private water industry has been a vital partner in addressing these challenges, ensuring safe and reliable water for communities nationwide. The six largest private water companies collectively invest nearly $2.7 billion each year in their water systems, which, in 2018, will amount to more than all of the federal clean water and drinking water federal grants combined. We are encouraged that the administration is continuing to give private investment a place in the water infrastructure discussion.”

Prior to the president’s State of the Union address in January, a leaked White House memo offered some details of a possible infrastructure spending plan. The leaked six-page document titled “Funding Principles” aligns with comments Trump Administration officials have said previously about the plan, such as dividing new federal dollars into four “buckets” that include grants for state and local infrastructure projects, rural projects, a “transformative projects program” and boosting funds for existing federal infrastructure assistance programs.

The leaked outline indicates that the majority of the plan’s funding would go to projects that bring the largest amount of non-federal revenues to the table. Other parts suggest overhauling the U.S. EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program to expand eligible projects to include Superfund and Brownfields cleanups and other activities.

Trump administration staff have suggested a more detailed infrastructure plan could be unveiled within weeks of the Jan. 30 State of the Union address.

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