TipSheet: Tools and Contacts for Covering Infrastructure
Covering infrastructure could be a full-time job, although very few news outlets devote reporters to the beat. Local news organizations often do, however, give much attention to the perils and triumphs of local projects.
But for them, infrastructure usually means roads and bridges, and maybe the occasional water plant. So their journalists usually only question whether a new highway project, for instance, will improve traffic, or when construction will start and finish.
Rarely do they ask about environmental impacts, such as whether public transit alternatives might pollute less. But there’s a lot more to infrastructure, and much of it is central to the environmental beat.
Local drinking water, stormwater and sewage treatment systems, for example. Bike paths and park roads too. Pipelines for oil, gas and hazardous chemicals can have huge environmental impacts. And there may be as many projects today to remove ancient dams that have outlived their usefulness (and mangled stream ecosystems) as there are projects to build new dams.
|New York's $4 billion Mario Cuomo Bridge under construction. Photo: NY State|
Even if the Trump administration’s recent infrastructure proposal (see our special backgrounder on infrastructure) never gets out of the station… er, off the ground, reporters might consider covering the many daily infrastructure stories that impact the environment, energy and people’s lives.
Infrastructure news and information can be found in predictable places. Here are some.
Congress holds infrastructure purse strings
Pork barrel politics is still practiced at the U.S. Capitol, although a fraction of the projects are actually green. Most of the important doings are in subcommittees. Make a point of checking in with the minority staff, even if we don’t link to them here. A Congressional staff directory may pay dividends.
Here are some of the key Congressional committees that work on infrastructure:
- House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee: Authorizes many federally supported projects, especially highway, transit and water projects (newsroom).
- House Energy Committee: Jurisdiction will include any infrastructure related to electric power and the grid (newsroom).
- House Appropriations Committee: Actually signs the check to fund almost everything the federal government does (newsroom). House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment: Funds Interior, EPA (sewers and drinking water) and some other environmental agencies. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water: Funds water projects by the Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and other agencies. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and HUD: Handles funding for highways, rail, transit and other infrastructure.
- Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: Democrats and Republicans may disagree about the environment, but they usually agree on water projects (newsroom).
- Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee: Jurisdiction will include any infrastructure related to electric power and the grid (GOP newsroom, Dem newsroom).
- Senate Appropriations Committee: Will ultimately write the check for any new federal infrastructure spending; works through subcommittees (GOP newsroom, Dem newsroom). Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment: Funds projects under the Interior Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (newsroom). Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water: Funds water projects and energy projects (newsroom). Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and HUD: Funds land transportation projects (newsroom).
Executive agencies oversee, operate projects
- Environmental Protection Agency: Oversees funding of Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, Clean Water State Revolving Fund, Superfund hazardous waste cleanups, Brownfields and Leaking Underground Storage Tanks (newsroom).
- Army Corps of Engineers: Oversees most non-western water projects (newsroom).
- Department of Transportation (newsroom): Federal Highway Administration (newsroom). Federal Transit Administration (public affairs contacts). Federal Railroad Administration (newsroom). Maritime Administration (newsroom).
- Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: Regulates pipelines and the grid, including what gets built (newsroom).
- Interior Department: Oversees many kinds of public lands, operating through sub-agencies or bureaus (newsroom). Bureau of Reclamation: Builds and operates Western water projects (newsroom). National Park Service: Maintains and constructs the many units of the National Park System (national newsroom). Also see individual Park System units.
- State Agencies: American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials: Represents state programs. State Transportation websites.
Other players have role in infrastructure policy
A great many interest groups, associations and lobbies have a stake in any infrastructure legislation. This long list is not complete. We provide a hotlink to the most media-friendly online resource for each.
- National Utility Contractors Association: Also has local chapters.
- American Society of Civil Engineers: Issues periodic infrastructure report cards.
- American Public Transportation Association: Public transit.
- American Concrete Pipe Association: Sewer and stormwater projects.
- American Water Works Association: Drinking water.
- Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies: Big city water and sewer agencies.
- National Association of Clean Water Agencies
- Water Environment Federation: Wastewater pollution and treatment.
- Association of American Railroads: Mostly commercial freight railroads.
- American Trucking Associations: The trucking industry, which uses and helps pay for highways.
- America’s Infrastructure Alliance: All kinds of infrastructure.
- Interstate Natural Gas Association of America: Natural gas pipelines.
- Associated General Contractors: Construction contracting as well as other kinds.
- AFL-CIO: This federation of labor unions is about jobs, especially union jobs.
- American Road & Transportation Builders Association: Construction.
- American Council of Engineering Companies: Self-describes.
- National Association of Counties: Counties are often involved in funding, building and running infrastructure.
- National League of Cities: Cities are often involved in funding, building and running infrastructure.
- National Rural Electric Cooperative Association: Backbone of rural electrification, likely player in rural broadband.
- Edison Electric Institute: Investor-owned electric utilities, with a stake in the grid.
- American Public Power Association: Publicly-owned electric utilities.
- Waterways Council: Represents the inland shipping industry.
- American Waterways Operators: Boat operators who use federally funded locks and canals.
- American Association of Port Authorities: Represents a portion of the maritime shipping industry that gets major federal dollars.
- Earthjustice: An “environmental law firm” that will probably take on cases protecting the environment from any infrastructure program.
- Natural Resources Defense Council: Litigates and is likely to challenge any non-legislative regulatory rollbacks.
- Center for Biological Diversity: Litigates and is likely to challenge any project that compromises the biodiversity of federal lands and waters.
- Nature Conservancy: Collaborates with business to get lands into conservation status, so may undermine some business support for the Trump program.
- National Parks Conservation Association: Likely to advocate refurbishing of park infrastructure and oppose running pipelines through parks.
- Wilderness Society: Likely to advocate protection of wild lands from infrastructure.
- Rails-to-Trails Conservancy: Promotes the conversion of abandoned railroad rights-of-way into hiking and biking trails.
* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 3, No. 8. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main page. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here. And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.