EDITORIAL: Infrastructure package meets federal red tape
Turns out fixing roads and bridges and a feverish administrative state don’t mesh well together.
April 6, 2021 - 9:01 pm
Republicans and moderate Democrats won’t be the sole obstacles to President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion “infrastructure” blowout. His own executive branch agencies could also prove to be significant roadblocks.
Mr. Biden’s proposal isn’t about fixing the nation’s roads, bridges, airports and the like. The majority of the spending would actually fund a slew of left-wing initiatives involving child care, climate change, union activism, elder care and other programs only tangentially related to the purported cause. And the small amount that it does direct to upgrading the nation’s transportation system — some estimates suggest this is less than 10 percent of the proposal — will be run through the corpulent federal bureaucracy that Mr. Biden and his fellow Democrats have spent decades feeding.
Turns out infrastructure development and a feverish administrative state don’t mesh well. Ask Barack Obama about those “shovel-ready” jobs that never materialized.
The projects that might survive the legislative process as part of the final bill will be subject to federal permitting laws — “a process so convoluted, costly, time consuming and unpredictable,” writes Mario Loyola of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, “that it’s a wonder any infrastructure project gets built in America. Many don’t.”
Donald Trump attempted to address these concerns through executive orders and by overhauling the National Environmental Policy Act last year in an effort to smooth the mountains of red tape that add years to most infrastructure completion dates. He was met with derision from progressive greens and congressional Democrats.
But even renewable-energy projects are routinely delayed by the burdensome regulatory network. “Wind and solar generation require at least 10 times as much land per unit of power produced than coal- or natural gas-fired power plants, including land disturbed to produce and transport the fossil fuels,” a paper for the Brookings Institute noted last year. This creates challenges in terms of permitting and leads to inevitable legal battles that cause further holdups.
If Mr. Biden truly hopes to update the nation’s infrastructure, he’ll lobby his old friends on Capitol Hill to pick up where Mr. Trump left off by further tearing down the bureaucratic barriers now standing in the way. That would have the additional advantage of increasing investment from the private sector.
“There is a vast supply of capital in the private economy for infrastructure projects,” Mr. Loyola writes, “including the many renewable-energy projects that show a positive return on investment given subsidies that already exist.”
That alone could save U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars — something they might appreciate from a White House eager to push the national debt clock past $40 trillion.