Infrastructure and Port Investment: A Congressional Update

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Vincent DiCosimo presented an update on the status of congressional work for infrastructure and port investment at the Port Bureau’s October Commerce Club luncheon. DiCosimo is vice president of governmental affairs at Targa Resources.

DiCosimo named numerous federal issues pending that could potentially impact the port region business community in the year to come. Among the many topics, he included:

  • Permitting Reform Bill – Accelerates energy permitting by setting maximum timelines for permitting reviews, including two years for NEPA reviews for major projects and one year for lower-impact projects. An estimated $157 billion is blocked in permitting.
  • EPA Non-Attainment Designation involving air quality standards. The EPA reclassified the eight-county Houston-Galveston-Brazoria area as serious to severe nonattainment in Oct. 2022.
  • Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (“CCUS”) — The DOE’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations, in collaboration with the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management, intends to provide up to $2.52 billion to fund two carbon capture programs. It can tackle emissions in hard-to-abate sectors, particularly in industries other than energy, such as cement, steel or chemicals.
  • Fiscal Responsibility Act/Investment Act and Inflation Reduction Act  Many dollars are yet to be appropriated.
  • Waters of the United States (“WOTUS”) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency released the pre-publication version of a final rule amending the agencies’ definition of what WOTUS means under the Clean Water Act.
  •  Railway Safety Act
  • USACE Regulations to Modernize Civil Works Program  
  • U.S. Coast Guard rules for implementing EPA Vessel Discharge Guidance

Looking at several issues from the state level, DiCosimo also noted:

  • HB 5: Texas Jobs, Energy, Technology and Innovation Act - aims to help Texas stay competitive by creating new, high-paying jobs, encourage economic development, attracting attract large-scale business investment, and encourages energy and water infrastructure development.
  • HB 19: Creates specialized courts with expertise to deal with business litigation. HB 19 became effective on September 1, 2023, but will apply only to actions commenced on or after September 1, 2024. Contains tiers of jurisdiction for the business courts created, based on the type of action, the amount in controversy, and whether a publicly traded company is involved.
  • Grid Reliability: HB 1500 and SB 2627 – HB 1500 changed how companies that produce electricity can make money in the Texas market. SB 2627 allocated $10 billion to provide low-interest loans, with interest rates up to 3%, for new thermal energy projects with a capacity up to 10 GW.  (Ed. Note: Texas voters approved the provision of SB 2627 as Proposition 7 on the ballot on Nov. 7, 2023.)  

At home in the port region, DiCosimo stressed the importance of Port Houston’s Project 11 – the widening and deepening of the Houston Ship Channel. He showed that according to a 2022 John Martin Associates study, the Houston Ship Channel sustains 3.37 million jobs nationwide and generates $906 billion in annual economic value and $62.8 billion in revenue to the U.S. He highlighted the progress of Project 11 to-date and the work projected for 2025.

He also discussed the Coastal Texas Program and the measures under consideration for flood mitigation. He emphasized the that Greater Houston Port Bureau fully supports the mission of protecting the communities, environment, and economy of the port of Houston from severe weather while considering the safe and efficient navigation of the Houston Ship Channel.  He mentioned the ship simulation study involving the Houston Pilots and Galveston-Texas City Pilots sponsored by the Port Bureau of the current design of the proposed Bolivar Roads Gate System. More than 40 separate ship transit scenarios, which considered variables such as weather, vessel size, currents, and visibility, were performed.  The study showed that maintaining two-way vessel traffic would be comprised and an estimated 2000 ships would be eliminated from Bolivar anchorage area, should the proposed gate design be implemented. This was shared with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Galveston, Dallas, and at their headquarters in Washington, DC, for further discussions on a redesigned plan.

Wrapping up the discussion, DiCosimo highlighted the many variables for the upcoming 2024 election year and their potential impacts to the port region. He ended his informative presentation with quotes from Andrew Shepard and Carl Sandburg, concluding with Sandburg’s “I see great days ahead, great days possible to men and women of will and vision.” 

The Commerce Club luncheon is hosted by the Greater Houston Port Bureau on the second Thursday of each month at the Houston Marriott South at Hobby Airport.

Thank you to our Commerce Club sponsors:

Annual Table sponsors:

Callan Marine • Cedar Port Industrial Park • Enterprise Products Partners  Kinder Morgan  Houston Pilots  Intercontinental Terminals Company  Moran Shipping Agencies, Inc. 

Thank you to our Commerce Club sponsors:

Annual Table sponsors:

Callan Marine •  Enterprise Products Partners  Kinder Morgan  Houston Pilots  Intercontinental Terminals Company  Moran Shipping Agencies, Inc. Shell • Targa Resources  TGS Ceder Port Industrial Park • Vopak • WGMA

October Table sponsors:

Energy TransferHouston Mooring Company • Pemex    Port Houston • Schröder Marine Services, Inc.