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ACLI Dinner

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
ACLI Dinner
June 15, 2017

Thank you, Governor Kempthorne, for that introduction.

An invitation from the Governor is hard to turn down!

Today I’d like to share some thoughts about infrastructure, which is of interest to your industry because it is so heavily invested in infrastructure.  The life insurance industry purchased 33%—or $62 billion—in Build America Bonds when they were first issued.  As of 2016, the insurance industry held $48 billion in municipal/infrastructure bonds.  And ACLI reports that industry CEOs say they are willing to invest up to 10% of their general account assets in infrastructure bonds.  That is approximately $425 billion!  Now, when somebody wants to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in America’s infrastructure, my response is this:  let me help you! 

As you may know, the President designated last week as Infrastructure Week to highlight the need to rebuild America’s aging and crumbling infrastructure. We were delighted that he closed out the week at the Department of Transportation, to emphasize the need for permitting reforms. In the 1930’s, it took five years to build the Hoover Dam—one of the most spectacular infrastructure projects of the 20th century.  Today, it takes longer—sometimes decades—to get a highway, a bridge or a few miles of metro rail built because of the delays caused by government permitting and regulatory processes.  These delays add billions in extra costs to building infrastructure.  So a major part of the President's infrastructure initiative will be common sense regulatory, permitting and process reform.  His goal is to reduce the process from 10 years to 2 years.

To make this happen, I have assembled a Task Force at DOT that has already identified dozens of proposals to cut red tape and reduce time delays and cost burdens for road and rail projects. For example, we are considering allowing the steps in the permitting process to occur simultaneously rather than sequentially, which would save a lot of time.  We are also considering enforcing existing page limit restrictions on environmental reports, which now can number in the tens of thousands of pages. As you may have seen in the coverage of the President’s visit last Friday, he picked up and dropped on the stage a 75 pound document that is the environmental impact statement for one piece of a highway project in Maryland.  Let me also mention that on Friday the Department published a notice in the Federal Register soliciting comments from all stakeholders on ways to improve government permitting.  So if you have any ideas, we want to hear from you!

In addition to regulatory streamlining, this Administration has identified $200 billion in the FY 2018 budget for infrastructure direct investment.  A key component of the plan will be incentivizing public-private partnerships to unleash billions in private capital.  Public-private partnerships are widely used throughout the world to finance new infrastructure.  They are not the answer to every infrastructure financing challenge.  But they work well in many situations. Unfortunately, many states do not allow private sector funding of infrastructure.  That makes no sense.  And it’s something that your industry can get behind to help promote change.

So with that, I’d be happy to answer some of your questions.

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Updated: Thursday, June 22, 2017
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