Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher, who represents the 7th District of Texas as a Democrat, recently joined an Association for Materials Protection and Performance (AMPP) podcast to discuss what the corrosion industry can expect from the newly signed U.S. infrastructure package. District 7 is where the longtime NACE International headquarters and a current AMPP office complex is located in West Houston.
Topics on the recently released episode include motivations for the bill and why it got to the finish line in this Congress; highlights of the deal that pertain most to corrosion engineers and contractors; how a person or company can position themselves to earn work; and the role that industry associations like AMPP can play. See below for a partial Q&A transcript between Lizzie Fletcher (LF) and AMPP’s Adam Christopher (AC) and Ben DuBose (BD).
AC: Congresswoman, you’ve been extremely helpful and have always had an open-door policy for NACE and now AMPP, and we’re obviously a major employer in your district. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience of working with us since joining Congress [in 2019]? I think you might have been the only member of Congress that I’ve met that knew NACE standards before I came into the room.
LF: It really has been a great partnership with NACE, and now AMPP, in the time that I’ve been in Congress. But you’re right, I had some familiarity from my work before [as a lawyer] in representing folks in different aspects of the energy sector, and learning more about their businesses, which has become a really useful and important experience to have up here in Washington [D.C.].
But we’ve partnered together on a lot of things, and I feel very, very lucky to have such an active partnership here. We worked together in the last Congress when I was on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on bridge and pipeline safety. And we worked, importantly, to secure an amendment in the U.S. House infrastructure bill, the INVEST in America Act, that strengthens and maintains bridge safety, and created federal corrosion planning inspection protocols. Which, I don’t have to tell you, is incredibly important.
Another big thing we were working on in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, last Congress, was the PHMSA [Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration] reauthorization. There, I also had an amendment in our reauthorization bill to prioritize corrosion inspection for pipelines. Again, I was so lucky to be able to work with you and folks across the district to really bring the expertise and the knowledge of what we should be thinking about, what we should be talking about, and how we could come up with some really workable policy solutions. I continue to call on you and use that information as I now serve on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Because we’re concerned about these issues.
AC: We definitely appreciate and value that relationship and look forward to working on future issues as well. You and your staff have just been great in that area. As far as infrastructure, walk us through how the infrastructure bill came to be. Why was it able to get across the finish line in this Congress, when maybe it wasn’t in the past for several years?
LF: Well, I have a short answer and a long answer to that question. But the short answer is leadership. You know, President Biden made it a priority of his administration to work across the aisle, to work with Congress, and to deliver results for working families. That’s what we’ve seen, and that is what it takes to get a huge piece of legislation like this across the finish line.
Congress and the president worked together to pass this historic — really, once-in-a-generation bill — to update our infrastructure and to position our people, our economy, and our country to compete and to win in the 21st century. That’s the kind of thing that happens only when you have leadership, and when you have people coming together. Here we saw the difference when you have leadership that’s committed to making something happen, and with the tools to bring people together and get it done. That’s what we saw with this bill.
AC: For our audience, the corrosion engineers out there [and] the contractors that might be going for some of this federal funding, what would you see as some of the highlights of the bill that pertain most to those members?
LF: Well, certainly there are a lot of areas. The picture that we have, of what we’re about to do, is invest in our roads and bridges. So thinking about the funding to repair roads and bridges and highways — with, I think it’s nearly $37 billion in grants and formula funding for the repair and replacement of deficient and outdated bridges — that’s obviously going to be an area of interest. And it’s not all of the backlog. I think there’s $125 billion bridge repair backlog. But this will be obviously an important area for corrosion engineers.
Then, the other thing that certainly is important to us in in Houston — but I also know from my own experience, before coming to Congress — is talking about pipeline integrity and pipeline safety. This is an area where we’ve worked together in the past. One of the other things in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is $1 billion in funding for a “Natural Gas Distribution Infrastructure Safety and Modernization Grant Program” that will be administered by PHMSA.
There will be about $200 million per year used to repair and rehabilitate and to replace pipelines. And certainly, this is an area where we know [that] corrosion engineers are absolutely essential in maintaining the integrity of pipelines and making sure we’re doing everything we can to protect the environment, and to make sure that those pipelines are not leaking. So that’ll be another area that I think will be of particular interest to your members.
BD: As far as the corrosion engineers, and the contractors that Adam mentioned, what’s the process like as far as the work actually getting awarded? How can a person or a company that wants to work on one of these projects best position themselves to take advantage?
LF: As Adam said earlier, there are a lot of different parts of the bill, and there are a lot of different ways to get involved in particular areas. But, generally, a lot of that awarding of the work will be up to agencies at the state and local level to determine the contracting. State Departments of Transportation and transit agencies will receive formula funds directly. Smaller entities, like cities and towns, can pursue funding through those agencies.
There are also competitive grants for smaller entities, but also there will be some competitive grants for private industry. That’s one of the things we’ve talked about, as well, in connection with this. A lot of the infrastructure that we see, and probably a lot of the infrastructure when it comes to corrosion in particular, there’s a lot that’s done with private dollars. Hopefully what we’ll see is this investment, at the federal level, also showing up in other kinds of investments that are being made simultaneously.
So, I think there’ll be a lot of opportunities to get involved. Some of that is still being determined. Some of them are long-standing formulas, and some will be new programs. Staying in touch, paying attention, and listening to guidance from AMPP moving forward about what the opportunities are…I think will be really important for folks who are looking to be a part of this transformative infrastructure investment.
AC: How can associations like AMPP and its members play a role in the implementation process, which I guess will take many months, and maybe years to go?
LF: I think making sure that your members know all the opportunities that are available is certainly an important part of this. But obviously, AMPP plays a crucial role in training and certifying corrosion engineers and coating inspectors, and other highly skilled folks in the corrosion industry. The work to create these industry-wide standards will be really valuable, as construction and repair projects break ground in our communities. And your expertise is going to be needed as we work to implement this legislation and really position our country to compete in the 21st century.
CoatingsPro Magazine's sister publication, Materials Performance, welcomed Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher to its podcast series in December. Listen to the complete interview at www.materialsperformance.com/podcasts.