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Federal Infrastructure Policy and Funding Update: Week of September 12, 2022

No policy update last week with Labor Day but this week’s edition is packed full of interesting snippets touching on rail investments, Justice Week at the Department of Energy, BABA waivers, guidance for Tribes seeking funds to cap orphaned wells and the first of many announcements distributing nearly $45 billion in funding for broadband. On a personal note, my daughter called her pacifier a “baba” and every time I read BABA, I think of her with her pink baba, which makes me smile. Back to the policy matters — we’ve also included a line item in this week’s update with upcoming speaking engagements, should any of our readers wish to tune in. Thanks for reading and please remember to subscribe.

Key Recent Policy and Funding Happenings

Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program Funding Available 

The Federal Railroad Administration published the Notice of Funding Opportunity for the CRISI program, making nearly $1.43 billion in funding available for rail projects that ensure rail safety and address congestion challenges affecting rail service. The USDOT press release further describes potential FRA investments in “a wide range of projects that will mitigate passenger and freight rail congestion; enhance multi-modal connections; and improve and establish new intercity passenger rail corridors.” Applications for the program are due Thursday, December 1, 2022, at 5 p.m. EDT. You can learn more about the program in our HDR Grant Opportunity Summary

Environmental Protection Agency Grants Build America Buy America Waiver for Certain State Revolving Fund Projects 

The IIJA included the Build America, Buy America (BABA) Act which established strong and permanent domestic sourcing requirements across all federal financial assistance programs. For several programs, these domestic sourcing requirements have created significant challenges for project sponsors to comply, delaying project implementation and increasing costs. Because of these challenges, EPA issued a BABA waiver for eligible projects to be financed by State Revolving Fund programs that initiated project design planning prior to May 14, 2022, the statutory effective date of the BABA requirements. Importantly, the BABA waiver does not waive the existing domestic iron and steel requirements of the SRF programs. Our SRF experts understand the implications of the waiver and other SRF requirements and stand ready to help clients plan their projects in light of these changing policies. 

Department of Energy Launches Justice Week

As part of the federal government-wide effort to advance racial equity and environmental justice, agencies have developed agency-specific equity action plans, consistent with Executive Order 13985 on “Advancing Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.” The department Energy released its Equity Action Plan in April and just recently released the department’s first-ever Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Strategic Plan. All of these actions have culminated in the department’s first-ever (a lot of firsts!) Justice Week (September 12 – 16). As part of the Justice Week activities, the department will convene internal and external stakeholders to discuss the work the department has been doing over the past year on issues of equity and justice.  Full Justice Week Schedule

The department also issued a press release this week describing how the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) is “Centering Equity and Justice in DOE’s Carbon Management Efforts.” The announcement goes on to describe requirements of FECM-funded projects to plan for societal considerations and impacts and take action and report on outcomes in four areas: 

  • Community, Tribal, and Stakeholder Engagement
  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA)
  • Environmental Justice and the Justice40 Initiative
  • Quality Jobs

Each funding announcement will specify how these societal considerations and impacts should be addressed at local and regional levels and several upcoming FECM funding opportunities will focus on catalyzing carbon management investments while prioritizing safety and environmental justice.

DOE Launches New Energy Earthshot to Slash the Cost of Geothermal Power

The Department of Energy announced a new goal to make enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) a widespread renewable energy option in the U.S. by cutting its cost by 90% to $45 per megawatt hour by 2035. Through investments in research and development, DOE seeks to help the nation access its full geothermal potential and reach the stated goals. DOE has recently invested $44 million to help spur geothermal innovation and up to $165 million to transfer best practices from oil and gas to advance both EGS and conventional geothermal. The IIJA also includes $84 million to support four pilot EGS demonstration projects. This is the fourth initiative announced as part of DOE’s Energy Earthshots Initiative

Interior Releases Draft Guidance on Tribal Orphaned Well Program

The Department of the Interior released draft guidance to Tribes on how to apply for the first $50 million in grant funding available to clean up orphaned oil and gas well sites on Tribal lands. The IIJA provides a total of $4.7 billion to address orphaned wells across the country, including $150 million for Tribal communities. The guidance describes the application process and provides requirements for carrying out activities under the program as well as providing what the department considers to be the best practices for establishing, conducting, and reporting on program activities. 

National Telecommunications and Information Administration Awards $2.9 Million to Louisiana in First of Internet for All Planning Grants

Louisiana is the first state to receive planning grants for deploying high-speed internet networks and developing digital skills training programs under the IIJA. The announcement is the first in a series of funding announcements expected from the Department of Commerce and NTIA as it implements the broadband funding provisions of the IIJA. Louisiana alone expects to see nearly $1 billion dollars in funding under the IIJA to support increased broadband access in Louisiana.  Additional information on the broadband funding programs is available at BroadbandUSA.ntia.doc.gov. 

Our policy experts, planning professionals, designers and engineers are actively working with clients to support broadband planning and deployment and are available to discuss broadband opportunities. Don’t hesitate to reach out! 

Speakers Corner 

In case you are tired of reading my written word and instead want to hear me discuss infrastructure policy, you’re in luck! On Wednesday, September 14 at 2 p.m. EDT, I’ll join a panel to discuss Navigating IIJA Transportation Funding Opportunities. Be sure to register! 

If you happen to be in Minneapolis later this month, I’ll be talking about federal programs supporting energy generation and distribution at the EUCI conference on Improving Right-of-Way Processes for Electric Transmission Projects. 

Eric Beightel | HDR | advisory services
Principal Infrastructure Policy/Environmental Strategist
Nathan Macek
Infrastructure Finance Director
Sheryl Chino
Municipal Client Advisor
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