Washington Report: Infrastructure Week

For years, “This is infrastructure week!” was the cry from Washington, involving a constant outreach to federal policymakers and legislators stressing the importance of maintaining our nation’s existing infrastructure while building the twenty-first century infrastructure needed to compete globally. After too many meetings, hearings, bill drafts, mark-ups and floor debates over the years, we finally did it. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also called the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), was signed into law last November.

The BIL is big! It authorizes and funds 375 programs, 125 of which are new, to build roads and bridges, airports, rail, water and ports, broadband, electric vehicle charging stations and more. Over the next five years, $1.2 trillion dollars in federal funding will be delivered to states and local governments to be matched locally to build, and in some cases rebuild, the infrastructure needed to create jobs and support our economy. Economists have estimated that the BIL will create 850,000 jobs over its five-year authorization.

While getting this massive package, the biggest federal infrastructure package enacted since the federal highway system was authorized during President Eisenhower’s administration, through the legislative process was a notable achievement, the work is not done. Now comes the implementation phase. To date, the administration has pushed out over $100 billion in formula grant funding to the states and local government grantees, such as transit agencies, along with billions of dollars in competitive grant funds. Nearly $50 billion in competitive grant programs has been announced since the bill passed in mid-November to request proposals to improve ports, airports, highways and bridges, and public transit. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers alone announced funding for over $11 billion for decades of backlogged water infrastructure projects. All in all, that is a lot of concrete.

However, there has been a delay in getting the federal funding authorized in the BIL out to communities across the country because some of the programs require the federal fiscal year 2022 budget bills to be enacted. The federal government has been operating under a series of continuing resolutions since the start of fiscal year 2022 on October 1, 2021. ACPA joined many of our fellow trade associations, urging Congress to complete its work on the fiscal year 2022 budget and allow the BIL programs authorized to start working now. Progress has been made and we expect an omnibus appropriations law for fiscal year 2022 to be enacted before the current continuing resolution expires on March 11.

Workforce development needs were acknowledged in the BIL as an eligible use for its various funding sources. There are also specific training programs authorized in the IIJA, including:

  • Energy auditor training grant program grants;
  • Building, training and assessment centers grants;
  • Career skills training:
  • Commercial building energy efficiency grants; and
  • Innovative water infrastructure workforce development program.

The Build Back Better Act includes more workforce training program opportunities, but this legislation, now stalled in the Senate, may not pass this year.

At this point, the Department of Labor’s Apprenticeships Building America (ABA) program may provide an opportunity for the concrete pumping industry to build a jobs pipeline for future employment growth.

In addition to preparing for the possible revival of the Build Back Better Act in the Senate, ACPA is working with our industry partners on a number of legislative issues that may present both challenges and opportunities to the concrete industry. As the wood industry continues to attempt to carve out building material preferences, ACPA works with our concrete colleagues to challenge these efforts. At the end of last year, we were again able to turn back a Defense Department procurement preference for wood constructed buildings. We monitor the appropriations bills for similar attempts.

Most importantly, we are preparing for the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization where we expect additional attempts to create pilots and preferences for wood construction over concrete. Similarly, we are working with our North American Concrete Alliance (NACA) to prepare for climate change requirements and carbon controls. It is critical to provide federal policymakers with the cement and concrete industry’s well-researched information about concrete’s role in carbon emissions and the industry’s plans to become carbon-neutral in the near future.

Finally, the fourth Annual Cement and Concrete Fly-In is scheduled for April 26–27 in Washington, DC. Participants will be given the opportunity to meet with members of Congress and their staffs to discuss critical issues affecting the cement and concrete industries, such as climate regulation, sustainability and resilience, infrastructure and workforce. During this two-day in-person event, participants will also hear from key administration professionals and congressional committee leaders on issues that may affect your company. Invited speakers include EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan, Deputy Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg, Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Select Committee on the Climate Crisis Ranking Member Garret Graves (R-LA-6).