Progress or politics?

Let me say up-front that I’ve never been a fan of U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), which helps to explain some of my admittedly jaundiced views. My opinion is that their grasp of energy issues/realities/policy is non-existent. Pelosi’s ineffective leadership in the House has made Newt Gingrich’s embattled tenure seem like a walk in the park. But that’s politics.

Reid and Pelosi have also never been a big supporter of the underground infrastructure. But now it seems politically expedient to jump on the infrastructure bandwagon since it’s more on the minds of Americans – and above all else, it’s an election year.

However, Reid and Pelosi, along with some of their political cohorts, really have (even if inadvertently) stumbled upon a great opportunity to aid the country’s underground infrastructure.

Pelosi’s suggestion is to create a federal infrastructure bank to help pay for roads, subways and other projects that could create jobs and improve the environment. The new debt-selling bank would be an independent federal entity that would evaluate major projects and use various financial tools to fund them. The new bank could sell 50-year debt, perhaps to pensions, she said, suggesting current investment curbs might be eased.

Reid also got into the infrastructure act in mid-July when he said he’d consider anything to stimulate the economy and suggested infrastructure funding would create jobs. No surprise there; infrastructure spending has always created jobs. Of course Reid failed to mention underground when discussing other infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

Roads are something we see and feel in a tactile way every day. Bridges are visible and I suppose even sexier (remember the book and movie ‘Bridges of Madison County’?). But the most telling thing to a politician is public impact. Unfortunately, the bridge collapse in Minnesota certainly filled the bill. Deaths and stark video footage combined with striking pictures of the failed bridge left an indelible mark on the American consciousness. Reid and Pelosi, like many of her fellow politicians, are trying to ride that wave of public concern.

Putting this in perspective: when the old steam pipe exploded in New York City last year, also producing (but only for a short time) some impressive photos/video, there wasn’t much damage and the only human cost was a by-product death from a heart attack. Just not impressive enough when compared to the bridge collapse a few days later. Politicians tend to have even shorter memories than voters.

Historically, several organizations have been lobbying and pleading with Congress for decades to increase funding. Though there have been minor victories, as a whole, those efforts have fallen short of their goals. Reorganization and new alliances in recent years have tried to present a more concerted effort and, if Pelosi and Reid are any indication, may be making progress. Of course, in all the various political “infrastructure” programs being bandied about by both sides of the political spectrum, the underground remains an afterthought once bridges, roads, railroads, etc. have been covered. But the mere fact that underground infrastructure is being mentioned represents a quantum leap up the political awareness scale. Make no mistake though; we still have a long, uphill climb ahead of us.

Is Pelosi’s proposal worth considering? Absolutely, though the funding and disposition of said funds would mark an extremely intense battle in Congress. I’m not even sure if the infrastructure “bank” is the right approach, but at least it’s a starting point for serious discussion.

Will there be a second economic stimulus bill that includes major infrastructure spending – including underground – such as Reid is suggesting? There are just too many variables to make a prediction.

Pelosi and Reid are both known for floating “concepts” widely appealing to voters without ever following up. But here’s your chance Nancy and Harry to impress us with a solid and comprehensive program to support the underground infrastructure backbone of America. Make us proud of your initiative rather than becoming further disenchanted. Remember, your leadership and Congress’ 9 percent approval rating can’t go much lower. Our infrastructure needs help now.

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