By Craig Stevens
March 24, 2020 at 5:00 am ET
The American economy is slumping. The stock market has faced some of its worst days in history. The Federal Reserve has cut rates to zero. Millions of Americans are temporarily out of work. This is the new — temporary — normal way of life in the day of COVID-19.
But there is hope on the horizon. Congress and President Donald Trump have been working diligently on a stimulus package in the ballpark of a trillion dollars to kick start the economy and put money in consumers’ pockets. Just this past week, Trump backed a plan to send checks directly to Americans, likely within the next couple weeks.
Given the circumstances of the ongoing pandemic, American lawmakers need to come at this from all angles. While industry bailouts and writing checks to Americans out of work might be a necessary step in the right direction, there are other solutions right in front us: greenlighting shovel-ready infrastructure projects.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal” sought to put Americans back to work and inject money into the American economy post-Depression. From roads and bridges to airports and waterways, the plan was rooted in large-scale infrastructure investment. And it worked.
Fast forward nearly 90 years, while society has made significant technological advancements, the same principles can be applied today. But rather than using taxpayer dollars to fund such infrastructure initiatives, the private sector stands ready to move. Public-private partnerships offer a unique opportunity to bolster American infrastructure — which received a D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers’ on its latest report card.
Energy infrastructure in particular offers a ripe opportunity for such partnerships. Energy projects such as pipelines, power plants, refineries and export terminals are capital-intensive, multiyear projects that support tens of thousands of high-skilled jobs. Projects such as the Permian Highway natural gas pipeline in Texas, the Line 3 pipeline replacement in Minnesota, and the optimization of the Dakota Access Pipeline in the Midwest all stand to provide significant benefits in a time when economic investment is most-needed.
Partnering with elected officials and regulators, the private sector has an opportunity to create long-term infrastructure investment. Such investment will not only stabilize the markets but bolster American energy resiliency and continue the process of lowering carbon emissions by investing in natural gas infrastructure and reducing reliance on truck and train energy transport.
Furthermore, these critical infrastructure projects could help mitigate the consequences of this downturn by employing tens of thousands of skilled workers across the country, while also helping to strengthen our energy and national security by utilizing the wealth of North American energy resources at our disposal.
The ongoing oil war between Russia and Saudi Arabia also serves as a reminder to the importance of American energy production and developing independence. The United States and its allies cannot be reliant on unpredictable foreign regimes, especially in times of crisis like now.
But in order for such investment to effectively happen, federal and state governments must ensure infrastructure investment is encouraged to move forward. Policymakers and regulators — now more than ever — have a responsibility to foster a regulatory environment that is conducive to large-scale infrastructure projects. Regulatory certainty and a straightforward, streamlined permitting and approval process are key to ushering in new investment.
With the 24-hour news coverage, schools and businesses shuttered, and uneasiness surrounding this pandemic continuing to grow, it’s easy to lose sight of long-term goals. But state and federal policymakers can help lessen the economic damage to families and communities across the country by reviewing and quickly permitting infrastructure projects. These projects will put people back to work and help bring normalcy back to America.
Craig Stevens, a former senior adviser to U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman, is the spokesman for Grow America’s Infrastructure Now.
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