Expanding Coal Exports Benefit All

Once the engine of American energy production, the U.S. coal industry has seen a significant decline in recent years from over regulation which has stifled growth, and forced the closure of many coal mines across the country in rural communities. However, good news is on the horizon, as global demand continues to increase as more countries modernize and industrialize their economies. Just today, a Pennsylvania mining company announced that they would be selling roughly 700,000 tons of coal to Ukraine by the end of 2017, further expanding the reach of American energy exports.

So far this year American coal exports have jumped more than 60 percent due to increased demand in Asia and Europe. Our shipments to the United Kingdom have gone up 175 percent, and our shipments to France have gone up 100 percent. This massive increase in coal exports helps to bolster our position as an international energy powerhouse, bringing us closer to “energy dominance” and reducing the influence of other major players, such as Russia, around the world.

The benefits from increased coal exports doesn’t stop on the international stage, though, as profound effects can be found right here at home. Dilapidated industries can be revitalized with this new increase in coal demand, bringing thousands of jobs to bereft economies and boosting local communities. Both coal mining industry, and shipping industries like the Association for American Railroads, will see the benefits of higher demand for coal.

As the United States continues to increase its energy exports to allies abroad, the benefits are apparent right here. With the demand for coal skyrocketing around the world, our miners and rail workers are returning to work. Local economies area once again feeling the benefits of a robust energy economy, and the GAIN coalition is glad to see this revitalization of the coal industry.

Waterways Haven’t Seen Real Investment in Decades

It’s easy to overlook American waterways when thinking about or discussing our shipping infrastructure.  Pipelines are in the news, shipping trucks are on the highway next to us.  But America’s waterways, our locks system, are used to move billions of tons of commodities to market every single year, making up a huge portion of our exports.  Unfortunately, as was highlighted during President Trump’s recent visit to Cincinnati, America’s waterways infrastructure hasn’t seen the investment necessary to support its growth in the 21st century.

Most of these locks – used as elevators of sorts to help ships navigate uneven and inconsistent water levels – were built more than fifty years ago, and haven’t seen upgrades since.  Because of this, 80 percent of all locks that saw commercial traffic in 2016 experienced an unexpected outage.  That number was up from 71% in 1993, showing that not only are these vital shipping lanes failing at an outrageous rate, but they’re also getting worse.

“If we have a barge stopped on the Upper Mississippi…commodities sit there until the problem is fixed,” says Rick Calhoun, president of Cargill Carriers, the Minnetonka, Minn.-based barge operator for the largest U.S. agricultural company by sales. “There’s no detours, there’s no way to do much but wait. And waiting costs a lot of money.”

Ensuring that our waterways get the attention they need ought to be a priority as the infrastructure discussion continues to progress in Washington.

 

 

Brookings Event Highlights Need For Rural Broadband

Rural communities across the country still lag behind urban centers when it comes to access to broadband infrastructure.  Bringing high speed internet to areas without it can have immense benefits, both for local economies and for the lives of residents. As Washington moves closer to bringing President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan to fruition, rural broadband funding deserves further consideration.

The Brookings Institution recently held an event on this very topic, focusing on how greater broadband infrastructure can improve the lives of Americans across the country. It’s become quite common for families in rural communities to spend their evenings in library parking lots, or McDonald’s, just so they can gain access to wireless internet – so the children are able to complete their homework.  This sort of issue was discussed in depth by the Brookings panel, noting that the time is perfect to make progress; Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the keynote speaker, reminded the crowd that President Trump is a builder, who understands how beneficial projects like this can be.

This is not only an issue for the education of our youth, it’s also an employment problem.  As jobs are continually replaced with technological advances, job retraining programs are becoming more common.  However, in rural communities where access to high speed internet is limited, it can be extremely burdensome to complete these programs.  In some cases, it can take 4 hours to stream a single, 45-minute lecture.  Jobs training was another key point during the event, with a focus on how broadband access helps to create jobs, through construction and through greater access to retraining programs.

It’s exciting to see the progress already made towards improving American infrastructure. Just a year ago this discussion was condensed to roads and bridges, and not much else.  The GAIN coalition is excited to see the conversation around infrastructure grow both more serious and much wider.  Expanding rural access to broadband is a concrete action that can help thousands of Americans improve their lives, and their futures.

President Trump Establishes Advisory Council on Infrastructure

It’s no secret that America’s infrastructure is in a sad state of disrepair, that our decades old roads and bridges have begun to break down and crumble. Across the country roads have grown bumpier, pocked with potholes. This, thankfully, has not gone unnoticed in Washington, or across the country. President Trump has touted his $1 trillion infrastructure revitalization plan, and expects to have a piece of legislation ready in the coming months.

The current administration has already taken the first steps to bringing this vital infrastructure plan to fruition. This past Thursday, the Advisory Council on Infrastructure was announced, bringing together a group of people whose sole purpose is to help improve our crumbling infrastructure. The panel is directed to “study the scope and effectiveness of, and make findings and recommendations to the president regarding, federal government funding, support, and delivery of infrastructure projects in several sectors.”

Three of the Council’s mission priorities are focused on energy infrastructure – ranging from natural gas infrastructure to an increase in solar energy creation. Currently, the Council is gathering information and beginning their inquiries, but they will also be giving detailed accounts of how we can improve all facets of our infrastructure along with energy; surface transportation, aviation, ports and waterways, water resources, and broadband are just a few examples.

As gridlock in Washington continues to stall a number of important issues, the President establishing this Advisory Council on Infrastructure shows concrete steps being taken towards comprehensive infrastructure legislation. This is an issue that cannot get bogged down in partisan politics, an area that should be without controversy as it helps to improve the lives of all Americans. The GAIN coalition is excited for future developments, and we’re glad to see genuine progress being made to improve America’s infrastructure.

Infrastructure Improvements Have to Focus on Rural America

When we talk about America’s crumbling infrastructure, it is easy to focus on certain, palpable, issues.  Roads and bridges, airports and highways are always the focal point of infrastructure discussions, and for good reason. They need attention, they need to be repaired. But the issue of American infrastructure goes so much further than that, particularly in our rural communities.

In most of our country, the quality of life for Americans is dependent on infrastructure. Farmers often depend on waterways to bring their products to market, and small businesses need high speed internet to properly compete. As infrastructure reform moves through Washington, we need to be sure that the net is cast wide enough to improve the lives of Americans in our rural communities. Thankfully, some lawmakers have already taken note of this.

Several members of Congress have spoken out, both directly to the public and in congressional hearings, about the need to improve our rural infrastructure. They recognize how important the American heartland is to our nation’s prosperity, and have been leading the charge to bring high speed internet, improve the electric grid, and to ensure that our farmers can get their product to market.

It’s exciting to see the national discourse around infrastructure heat up, and the progress already made in Washington should act as a precursor for the successes to come. As infrastructure reform and policy are fully fleshed out, the GAIN coalition is hopeful to see an increased focus on rural infrastructure that has been overlooked for years. Ensuring that Americans living in rural communities have access to high speed internet and a superb water system is vital to promoting American prosperity.

Infrastructure is Saving American Farmers

Thomas Jefferson envisioned America as a country of farmers, creating for ourselves and living of our own accord. While that vision has not entirely come to fruition, our American farms are an ineffably important part of our country – both our economy and our identity. We know this, yet we’ve allowed family owned farms to fall by the wayside, circling bankruptcy, living with the anxiety of survival and making ends meet.  In many cases though, investment in energy and natural gas has saved family farms.

On the brink of bankruptcy, many farms are unsure how long they can sustain themselves. However, the natural resources on their land have begun to provide for them as well, creating greater income and far more security. Landowners are growing wealthy by utilizing the natural gas on their properties; family farms are able to avoid splitting and selling off part of their land. This is one clear benefit to investing in natural gas, and shows just how beneficial investments in energy infrastructure can be for all Americans.

It’s plain to see how natural gas is helping the country on a grand scale – international energy dominance, lower heating costs, fewer emissions – but it’s also easy to overlook the effects it has on smaller communities. Not only have farmers benefited, but their local communities benefit as well. With the additional income, farmers are able to pour this money back into their towns and small businesses, boosting parts of America that are so often forgotten by lawmakers in Washington.

This is a good example of how important energy infrastructure is, and how helpful it can be to local communities. Fully utilizing the natural resources on American soil would help hard working Americans by putting money in their pocket and allowing them to spend less on heating costs and gas bills. The GAIN coalition is elated to see these family farms begin to thrive again, and hopes to see continued growth in local and rural communities across the country.

Infrastructure is the key to boosting Midwest America

It’s easy to talk about getting everyone to work and employing full union halls at living wages. For one state, Ohio, this has become a reality, as the demand for skilled labor has skyrocketed in recent months. The newfound demand for labor has created an economy that benefits American workers, and improves the quality of life that they and their families enjoy.

This increase in jobs is a result of large, direct investments in local infrastructure. Infrastructure investments, both from private and public sources, are beneficial to everyone involved. They create more jobs, improve local economies, and improve the quality of life. This is a perfect example of why infrastructure needs to be a priority moving forward, and why more funding needs to be brought in from all sectors.

In Ohio alone, thousands of jobs have been created already from a multitude infrastructure projects in construction, energy, and transportation. One pipeline project alone, the Rover Pipeline, has created an estimated 6,500 jobs in Ohio. Millions of dollars have poured back into local economies, boosting areas that have largely been left behind.

Moving money towards infrastructure projects is an action that can benefit everyone. The GAIN Coalition is proud to see the great benefits that Ohio has been enjoying, and we hope this is seen as an example for what can be done across the country. Midwestern communities are the heartland of America, and it’s clear that investing in their infrastructure is an investment in our country as whole. We hope to see greater funding allocated for these projects, and we look forward to the improved lives that Americans will enjoy as a result.

Time To Update Our Pipes And Water Infrastructure

When was the last time you had a drink of water? Maybe there’s a glass sitting on your desk, or a water bottle tucked away somewhere. Most of us don’t think about access to water – clean water. It’s a simple necessity that everyone should have access to, a basic fact of life that seems so obvious that it wouldn’t be overlooked. Yet millions of Americans live each day with water that hasn’t been properly tested, and in many cases has actually been found to be unsafe.

A USA Today reporter spent 2016 reviewing countless reports on water quality and water tests from the EPA, as well as tests from all 50 states. They found that 4 million Americans get their drinking water from sources that were not properly tested, and about 100,000 actually consumed water that contained lead. No action was taken to remove the lead or purify the water after the tests came back.

Regulatory overhaul needs to happen in order to prevent this from occurring in the future, but this kind of issue should also be treated at the source. Harmful contamination of drinking water often comes from aging water infrastructure, usually poor systems of purification or transportation, which put dangerous chemicals into our water systems. In many cases, the pipes that bring water to us were laid down decades ago. They’re long overdue for replacements and repairs. This is as plain as an issue can be: clean water is necessary to survive, and it isn’t getting to millions of Americans.

A measure that would tweak the Safe Drinking Water Act is currently being marked up by a House Energy & Commerce Committee subpanel. This is a great first step, but more action needs to be taken for all Americans to have access to quality drinking water. As the discussion around infrastructure investment continues to heat up in Washington, the GAIN coalition hopes that the quality of water being brought to Americans across the country is not forgotten. An investment in water infrastructure should be at the forefront of these discussions, and we’re glad to see Congress already taking action to ensure safe drinking water is available to everyone.

Our Airports Can’t Be Overlooked

Two years ago at the Yeager Airport in West Virginia we were reminded of the poor state of America’s airports. A safety area at the end of a runway, meant to mitigate emergencies, broke free and fell down a hill. The accident crushed a church and forced 100 people from their homes.

President Trump has pledged to help our air travel network, and the improvements can’t come soon enough.

Despite Congress allocating $3.2 billion to airport projects annually, this falls far short of what is actually required. A funding increase is paramount to updating our airports; in each of the next five years, airports will need a total of $6.5 billion due to increased passenger levels and aging facilities.

The Yeager Airport, for example, built their current air traffic control tower 67 years ago. Needless to say, an upgrade is long overdue.

Some funding has come already, with just about $863 million in federal grants going toward runway and terminal reparations. This is a good start, but it only scratches the surface in what is really needed to maintain a safe and secure airport.

Like all infrastructure, airports are a vital economic support system for the communities in which they are located. The Yeager Airport, for example, supports $174 million each year in economic activity, and employs more than 1,800 people. The crumbling state of this airport needs to be addressed not only for transportation security reasons—thousands of Americans rely on it to support their families.

We know the gap in funding for maintaining our airports, and we know that a massive infrastructure bill is forthcoming. The GAIN coalition is excited to for the wave of infrastructure projects that will be made possible if that bill gets passed. We hope that as funds are earmarked and allocated, our airports are not forgotten. The Yeager Airport is simply one of thousands of airports that need attention and repair, one of many whose terminals are breaking down. We need to ensure that our air travel is the envy of the world, and the time is ripe to do so.

Approving FERC Nominees Would Benefit All Americans

At this moment, between $15 billion and $25 billion sit in limbo, ready to bring value to local economies. Seventy-five thousand jobs are waiting to be created, simply pending approval. This is because 15 different infrastructure projects are unable to receive approval from the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC). The Commission has been without a quorum for months, waiting for nominees to receive approval from the Senate.

If the Senate continues to delay bringing these nominees to a general vote, our country will miss out on an invaluable economic opportunity. These projects waiting for approval will benefit us all, building roads, highways, bridges and dams. They are infrastructure projects that do not need additional federal funding. This isn’t a budgetary debate. It’s partisan bickering that senselessly denies thousands of Americans the infrastructure improvements they greatly need—along with thousands of jobs.

Two nominees have already received approval from the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee, and a third is on the way. Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson were nominated by President Trump back in May, and while they wait for Senate approval only one person remains on the five-person Commission. Both Democrats and Republicans are blaming each other for the delay, with the White House labeling Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer an obstructionist, while Senator Schumer says that the White House “need only look in the mirror” to see who is to blame.

This is the exact type of Washington infighting that the American people are tired of hearing. They just want results and movement on economic opportunities. Promoting the repair and growth of our nation’s infrastructure is clearly a non-partisan issue. Congress should take action immediately as it would benefit the country so tremendously. Commonsense action to fill the FERC quorum can help the economy immediately, and it is time to cut through the noise and get it done.

The GAIN Coalition is eager to see the Senate move forward with the nominees, because this isn’t an issue of the left or the right, of Democrat or Republican. This is a moment when action can be taken to benefit the American people. Approving the two FERC nominees before the Senate would allow infrastructure projects to finally move forward, bring incredible boosts to our local and national economies, and create thousands of jobs. It is time to move forward with the FERC nominees. We hope to see the two receive votes very soon.