Who should do the rebuilding?

The word of the month seems to be “infrastructure.” Everyone seems to think we need the federal government to put up billions and trillions of dollars of money we don’t have to do stuff we probably don’t really need, such as “clean energy.” (Regular old not quite as clean energy already created millions of jobs, some of which the current administration is hellbent on losing.)

One group which has laid the guilt trip on thick is one you may expect: the Alliance for American Manufacturing. I wasn’t sure if this was a pitch for their cause or for fundraising (not that they need any since I’m sure most of their funding comes from union dues and affiliated industry groups.)

Did you see the news out of Florida?

Hundreds of people were forced to evacuate near Tampa Bay this weekend because a leak had sprung at a wastewater reservoir. It threatened to unleash hundreds of millions of gallons of contaminated water, potentially causing a “catastrophic flood.”

Imagine having to evacuate your home because of a potential flood of toxic water.

While the exact cause of the leak is not yet known, the failure of critical infrastructure like this is, sadly, not a surprise. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave U.S. wastewater systems a “D+” grade, and the situation in Florida is just another example of the real-life consequences of America’s crumbling infrastructure.

Nearly 200 people died earlier this year in Texas when the state’s power grid failed during winter storms. Hundreds of thousands of people in Jackson, Mississippi were left without clean drinking water for weeks after storms wreaked havoc on the city’s water infrastructure.

It shouldn’t be like this – and it doesn’t have to be like this.

“Deadly Power Outages. A Potential ‘Catastrophic Flood.’ No Drinking Water. Enough is enough!” E-mail from AAM, April 6, 2021. (Emphasis in original.)

You’re right, it doesn’t have to be like this. But it certainly doesn’t need to be a top-down solution with funding doled out to the favored and connected, either.

After reading a little bit about the issue in Florida, it appears the state is going to pay for the cleanup – out of federal money they received from the stimulus program. (So the state is really not paying for it.) Of course, the owner of the facility in question is bankrupt so they couldn’t deal with it even if they were found liable for the breach in the reservoir liner.

And then you have the Texas situation, which was one where the utilities cut a corner, figuring they would never have to put up with such a storm – until they did. It’s one of those cases where the state will probably chase some good money after bad, doing what the utilities probably should have done to little effect since they likely won’t have another bad winter storm like that for decades. It’s probably the same thing in Jackson, Mississippi, except I’m sure local ratepayers have been funding the needed repairs for decades. It just sounds like they didn’t get the needed repairs, which makes me wonder just what they spent the money on.

And so on and so forth. Look, we have a need for infrastructure improvements, but the problem is that very little of this Biden proposal actually goes to infrastructure. If you want more infrastructure funding, it’s not about who supplies the coin so much as it is about spending it efficiently. If you want more bang for the infrastructure buck, there are a couple quick ways of doing so: eliminate the layers of environmental review which get used as a delaying tactic by the NIMBYs of the world, and repeal the Davis-Bacon wage rates so that contractors aren’t chained to sky-high labor costs. That’s just two quick ways of getting more repair and less red tape.

Sadly, we’ll get the stuff we don’t need and the bill to boot.