NUCA’s Interview With Chairman Sam Graves

Sam Graves in committee

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Has New Leadership

With the start of the 118th Congress comes new leadership in the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee. NUCA’s strong support of the committee’s new Chairman, Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO), opened doors for Utility Contractors editors. We were able to secure an interview with then-incoming Chairman Graves before the new Congress was gaveled into session on January 3rd.

Q1. Rep. Graves, congratulations on being selected as the next chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. What will be your committee’s top engineering and construction issues for the 118th Congress and, more specifically, what ideas will your committee offer to help lower energy costs for construction businesses?

Thank you. It’s truly an honor to be selected to chair the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
In the 118th, we’ll have a number of priorities specific to construction and engineering, which I’m sure we’ll dive into deeper. One will be continuing to look at avenues for infrastructure project streamlining, including pipeline construction. Safety and environmental protection are important, but we can’t have critical projects being bogged down for years with unnecessary regulations that only serve to damage our economy, undermine American energy independence, and burden Americans financially.

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We also need to reauthorize the federal pipeline safety program. We didn’t have a single pipeline safety hearing this past Congress, so we plan to hold hearings in 2023 to review key safety issues we must consider for reauthorization. In addition, we plan to look at other important pipelines issues such as using pipelines for emerging energy sources like hydrogen, the role pipelines play in energy independence and environmental protection, and protecting pipelines from cybersecurity and physical threats.

I am confident that the T&I Committee, working in conjunction with other Republicans in the House, can help combat our nation’s energy crisis and bring down costs for businesses and consumers by streamlining the permitting process and making sure projects aren’t getting bogged down by burdensome, unnecessary regulations.

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Q2. With the massive Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) set to be implemented and shaped into projects across the country and the possibility of more ill-advised regulations delivering adverse results for our industry, how do you anticipate your committee will utilize its power of oversight and review?

Since IIJA’s passage, we’ve been critical of how the Administration is pushing their green agenda despite how the law was actually written. For example, a Federal Highway Administration memo from December 16, 2021, pushes states to reject adding new highway capacity, despite there being no such language in the IIJA. That’s a case of this Administration twisting the intent of IIJA to focus on their own climate-focused priorities instead of conforming with the letter of the law. They shouldn’t be enforcing a one-size-fits-all agenda when that agenda simply doesn’t make sense for many areas of the country. States and communities need flexibility to do what’s best for them, and if that includes adding new roads, then they should have that flexibility. My large, rural district in Missouri has very different infrastructure needs than districts in New York City or San Francisco. Ultimately, our transportation policies need to be driven by common sense – not force fed to every state and every community.

The One Federal Decision (OFD) project streamlining provision of IIJA is another example of where we will be closely watching if and how the Administration is implementing the law. Time is money when it comes to infrastructure project reviews, so the Administration should be making OFD a priority. However, there are concerns that the Administration is prioritizing its own goals over implementing OFD, as the law directs, in a timely manner.

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In general, with IIJA being such a massive $1.2 trillion spending bill, there are unfortunately opportunities for waste, fraud, and abuse. Oversight of that law and other issues is absolutely critical. If legislative action is needed to address problems with the infrastructure law’s implementation, Congress will act. It’s imperative that our nation’s inflation, supply chain and energy crises aren’t amplified by unchecked authority and lack of accountability from the Executive Branch.

We will also keep a close eye on the Environmental Protection Agency’s and the Army Corps of Engineers’ actions relating to Waters of the United States (WOTUS) regulations. On December 30, 2022, the Biden Administration took another significant step in moving the country back towards the costly and burdensome WOTUS regulations of the past, an action ultimately that would have significant impacts on businesses, farmers, infrastructure builders, communities, and private citizens. And doing so before the Supreme Court will rule on a case (the Sackett case) in the coming months that will bear directly on any WOTUS-related rules or regulations would be a massive and senseless overreach.

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Sam Graves in committee

Q3. Reforming the permitting process used for environmental reviews is critical to keep infrastructure projects on-time and within budget. What kind of legislation should the utility construction industry expect in 2023 that will streamline environmental reviews?

Our Committee will look to prioritize relevant project permitting streamlining efficiencies, issues impeding the movement and transportation of energy supplies, and more. We can continue working with other committees in Congress to modernize the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) – the goal of the BUILDER Act, which I helped introduce. We can also consider applying the OFD process I mentioned earlier to more forms of infrastructure, such as pipelines and other energy focused projects. IIJA included these commonsense policies specifically for highway projects. Delays for major projects can last from six or seven years to more than a decade. That’s unacceptable. When countries like Canada, Germany, and Australia can get projects approved in two years, we know we can do better. In addition, since inflation has and continues to significantly devalue IIJA funding, getting projects built faster with less red tape can help counteract a bit of the loss due to inflation.

Q4. The 118th Congress will be a divided Congress, with reduced opportunity to find bipartisan solutions to our nation’s problems. However, infrastructure traditionally is an area where agreements across the aisle can be found. What infrastructure areas do you foresee for this session which will find advocates in both parties?

When I first came to Congress, I fought hard to serve on the T&I Committee. I believe traditionally it’s been one of the most important, effective, and bipartisan committees in Congress. We have an important legislative agenda ahead, and while we won’t agree on every issue, I intend to restore the Committee’s strong bipartisan tradition as we aim for solutions to improve our infrastructure, strengthen transportation programs, and help alleviate ongoing energy and supply chain problems.

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One of my highest priorities is a bipartisan, long-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and aviation programs. As a professional pilot, I know first-hand just how important a strong U.S. aviation system is in connecting our large, small, and rural communities to each other and the rest of the world. Aviation is a major sector of our economy, and we must ensure our Nation remains the world’s gold standard in safety and at the forefront of incorporating new technologies into the system.

I am also looking forward to working across the aisle to develop other key authorizations for our transportation and infrastructure systems, including a pipeline safety bill, a Coast Guard bill, and the next Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which has passed Congress every two years since 2014 with significant bipartisan support.

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Q5. What other surprises does the incoming T&I Chairman have in store for the new Congress and the Biden Administration?

The bottom line is this: Congress must provide oversight of the Administration’s policies and help root out any waste, fraud, or abuse. The T&I Committee will do its part to hold this Administration accountable. But I strongly believe that T&I works best when we can find common ground on infrastructure issues that are important to the economy and to everyone, regardless of party. And I look forward to the work that lies ahead.

Robert Baylor is NUCA’s communication director. Zack Perconti is NUCA’s vice president of governmental affairs. Tags: , ,