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Opinion: Congress should promote free market infrastructure policies


As congressional leaders debate how to get our economy back on track, we can expect a flood of legislation aimed at supporting the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. There has been a lot of discussion regarding a transportation package that promotes economic development, which puts U.S. Congressman Sam Graves, as the ranking member of the House Transportation Committee, in a unique position to support free market competition in any transportation bill that gets voted on in the House.

Jay Van Luven

Given that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be looking for real solutions with bipartisan support, Graves should work to ensure any transportation bill that comes out of the House includes measures that will pass the Senate. And since the Senate is under Republican control, prioritizing free market principles will be key to getting any bill passed.

One particular area where Graves could provide a legitimate, positive impact on the direction of transportation policy is regarding electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure or the deployment of EV charging stations.

Despite the effects of COVID-19, we expect the EV market to continue to grow, according to research by Markets and Markets. Forecasts show that commercial vehicles like electric buses, in addition to the growth in e-commerce deliveries, are likely to propel the increase in EV usage.

Considering that promoting EV adoption is also a key component in Democrats’ plans to decrease carbon emissions, we can expect that Democrats will push for EV infrastructure language in any transportation bill that passes the House. Therefore, it is incumbent upon Graves to promote free market EV infrastructure solutions.

He can do this by supporting fair competition for existing fuel retailers and businesses that host charging stations. This could be in the form of a rebate program that promotes private investment in alternative fueling options. Thankfully, this policy has already received bipartisan support in the 116th Congress.

And last year, U.S. Senators John Barrasso and Tom Carper had language included in the bipartisan infrastructure package that passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which secured $300 million in grant funding to support the private sector building EV charging infrastructure and hydrogen fueling stations along the National Highway System. Importantly, the bill made clear that these grants should go to the private sector so that all of us could benefit from free market competition in EV charging and transparent pricing.

The free market is ready and willing to transition to alternative fuel sources but can only do so if they can fairly compete in the marketplace. Unfortunately, many states still have old policies that prohibit anyone other than a utility from selling electricity to a consumer.  Our next transportation bill can and should preempt these outdated state laws so that private businesses can sell electricity to EV drivers.

And some states, like California, have been allowing utility companies to raise rates on their electric customers to pay for the construction of EV charging stations. This policy will undermine competitive pricing, confuse homeowners and other electricity customers, and chase away private sector investment, which is critical to the creation of a national EV infrastructure network. Without private sector investment, we will have fewer charging stations at a higher price for consumers.

McConnell has said “the Senate will stay on course and continue our serious work at this serious time,” showing just how critical it is for any transportation package to garner bipartisan support. And an obvious example of a policy that could receive support from both sides of the aisle is incentivizing private sector investment into EV infrastructure.

A transportation infrastructure package could go a long way to boost the U.S. economy, as long as Congress does it in a way that promotes free enterprise solutions. Thankfully, Graves has the opportunity to fight for commonsense infrastructure policies that promote fair competition.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.