Joung Lee, AASHTO Deputy Director, sits down with us to talk about some of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) implementation successes and challenges one year after being passed into law.
AASHTO re:source Q&A Podcast Transcript
Season 3, Episode 28: Checking In on the IIJA - 1 Year Later
Recorded: November 1, 2022
Released: November 15, 2022
Hosts: Brian Jonson, AASHTO Accreditation Program Manager; Kim Swanson, Communications Manager, AASHTO re:source
Guest: Joung Lee, Deputy Director of AASHTO
Transcribed by Kim Swanson and MS Teams.
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[00:00:02] Announcer: Welcome to AASHTO resource Q & A. We're taking time to discuss construction materials, testing, and inspection with people in the know from exploring testing problems and solutions to laboratory best practices and quality management, we're covering topics important to you. Now here our host, Brian Jonson.
[00:00:21] Brian: Welcome to AASHTO resource Q & A. I'm Brian Johnson.
[00:00:24] Kim: And I'm Kim Swanson. And we have a very special guest today. Don't we, Brian?
[00:00:28] Brian: Yes, we've got Joung Lee, Deputy Director of AASHTO here to talk to us once again about the IIJA, which is the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which was signed into law about a year ago from today's recording. So, it was a November 15th, 2021. So, we've had a year of time passed between when this law was signed and there have been all sorts of questions and comments and progress made on implementation. Some interesting things available on federal websites about the different kind of projects that are being funded. That we will put links to on this episode, one in particular that I was excited about was this map where you can see all of these projects that were funded throughout the country, and you can really see where the money is going. So that is really cool. So, look for that on our website. But Joung, welcome to the podcast again. That was the longest intro I think I've ever provided without letting a guest speak.
[00:01:34] Joung: Alright, thanks for having me back. Really great to see you guys again.
[00:01:39] Brian: Yes. So, I'm going to ask you just a couple quick questions about it. This is just a progress check up on this bill implementation from what you've seen. But I would like to cover the, the, the, the good and the not so good parts of it. So, let's start with the good news, what from what you've seen, can you just give us an example of anything that's been going particularly well with the implementation of the IIJA?
[00:02:04] Joung: Sure. So, there are a couple of clear theme themes in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and you know I would say resilience and climate change is 1 and as a subset of that effort is on electric vehicle infrastructure deployment and we've seen really great progress especially with the submission of the EV infrastructure deployment plans by every single state, all 50 states plus DC and Puerto Rico by the August 1st, 2022, deadline. So, it was a very aggressive timeline for all of our state DOT members to work on. And then at the end of September, USDOT, went ahead and approved those EV plans for all 50 states plus DC and Puerto Rico and that really enables all the states to then now have access to $5 billion in funding under the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure, what we call NEVI Formula program and that. Kind of progress of being able to be made so quickly in a sphere where things do take many years when it comes to infrastructure. It's just a really great start to see.
[00:03:16] Brian: That that's great. And now for those who are not as excited or enthralled with the use of electric vehicles, can you just give an example of what the benefit is of building out that infrastructure for electric vehicles?
[00:03:31] Joung: Absolutely. So, you look at both kind of the light duty vehicles, a lot of them, you know passenger cars that I think what most people will be thinking about, but it has a huge impact also when it comes to freight movement and transit, right. So, you look at the electric buses, you look at electric trucks and when you combine all of that with personal vehicle miles traveled, the more that you can have on the EV side, it would make a dramatic impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions coming. From the transportation sector, which is one of the three biggest producers of greenhouse gas in the nations in the US, I would say along with industry and electric power generation.
[00:04:18] Brian: Yeah, that that's a great point. And I know a lot of people are interested in kind of putting energy in our hands more right, like being able to produce power and having a stronger. national position or more energy independence? And I think electric gives us an opportunity to have a better position there too. So, there's a lot of positives. To speak about now, now let's talk about something that has been a little bit more challenging with the implementation, what are people talking about now? What are the problems that they're trying to solve? I mean, you can just talk about one of them that that comes to mind because I know there's a lot to cover in the bill on the both the good side, where things have been going great and there's a lot of improvements and things that have taken a little bit more work to get to. So, what comes to mind when you think about challenges associated with implementation?
[00:05:16] Joung: Yeah. So, you know, the infrastructure law came with sky high expectations and one of the requirements in the law is to expand Buy America requirements which require state and local agencies to buy certain materials that are made in the US. If the project is funded with federal dollars, and so you're looking at requirements where you know iron, s teel and manufactured products be made in the US. And they've typically applied, you know, to the transportation sector for a while, but now it's brought in the scope both sector wise, looking at housing, broadband and EV charging infrastructure as well, but also creating a whole new category of materials, what they call construction materials in addition to manufactured products that have been affected by this provision for a long time. And it's something where no state would, you know, say that they don't support the expansion of America's manufacturing capacity, promoting our domestic jobs. Ultimately, all of this supports economic growth, and certainly AASHTO has conveyed our strong support for the intent of Buy America and its expanded requirements. But at the same time, we've been talking to Congress, the administration. That there has to be a deliberative process for implementing Buy America so that you can still get the projects that make the difference, as quickly as we can again to meet the very high expectations of the infrastructure bill. And really not, you know, cause any undue disruptions on program and project deliveries to the transportation agencies, including state DOTS. So that's been an area where there are definitely tradeoffs involved where you know if you want to focus on domestic capacity build up, especially in manufacturing. You just wouldn't be able to do as much in the meantime. And you're losing kind of that opportunity again to put the dollars to work as quickly as possible as it's been a tough one, but we're hoping that you know that right balance can be found to meet, all of the goals that Congress intended under the IIJA.
[00:07:47] Brian: Yeah, that has been a hot topic on the material side too. I mean, this has been a really important discussion for the Departments of Transportation on how they can make the improvements they want to make. You know how they can make sure they're fulfilling the obligation that they have to improve what they have and to build new infrastructure things. You know, you look at any products. That exist and it's complicated, right? It's not like you're not buying just a chunk of wood or just a piece of rock or something like that that you like. OK, well, that I can. I know where that's from. Right. So, then you're looking at, especially when you're talking about electric vehicle infrastructure. You're talking about all these components. [Joung: Exactly.] It could be from different places. And then just building materials too. I mean, you've got cements coming from all over the place and aggregates and other things that people like to put into the roads that maybe neither of those things and the DOT's all have to figure out how to do it. So yeah, that that is. It also kind of addresses the issue that I never really knew before being involved in this industry, the importance of rulemaking. So, it's like, you know, you get a law, you're like OK, mission accomplished, right? And then it's like, OK, well, it's written very vaguely, and it doesn't address all of these specific details that the people who actually have to implement it understand very well. But the people who wrote it may, they may know a little bit about it, but they don't know all the ins and outs. So, then you've got this rulemaking process. And can you just give us a little insight into how that works at a federal agency?
[00:09:36] Joung: Yeah. So, Congress sets the overall parameters right through legislative text. And like you said, Brian, I mean, there are a lot of considerations that have to be taken into account when you're actually trying to carry out that congressional intent. And that's where the executive branch agency, you know. Rules, policies, guidance. They all have kind of differing levels of authority associated with it, but ultimately, it's to help understand what we're all trying to do here. One of the discussions that have taken place in IIJA is that some folks in Congress feel that the administration has taken greater liberties than they would like to see with, you know, interpretation of some of the congressional text or doing things that are not specifically called for in IIJA. And I guess on the flip side, not carrying out what is called for in the IIJA as quickly or as robustly as they wanted to see happen. So that tension to some extent is always going to be there between legislative and executive branches. And I think what matters so much on the hill in terms of how to figure it all out is, you know, the practitioner perspective that the AASHTO state DOT members provide because that really kind of cuts through a lot of the theoretical and the ideological and just gets down to like, hey, this really works and works better or it's not going to work.
[00:11:14] Brian: Yeah, and I love it. I love the way the DOTs work too. How they often are looking to get people involved outside of their agencies too. So, they think about the people doing the work and building, you know, making whatever the products are the people who are installing or building with those materials. And they often have...there are often other associations that support those industries as well. And there's typically conversations going on and back and forth all the way around so that that we can get an optimal situation it that's what we hope for at least. So that makes me feel good as a as a taxpayer that there are those structures in place. So. I appreciate you taking the time with us today to talk about how things are going, and I hope we can check in at later on and continue these discussions to see how things are going. I know that there are still some unanswered questions out there, but is there, is there anything, any final words of optimism or just doesn't have to be optimism? Just any final words on this topic that you'd like to let our listeners know about?
[00:12:30] Joung: Yeah. No, I mean, I think, you mentioned earlier about how we're approaching the one-year anniversary of the infrastructure law. It is a marathon; it is for five years. And so, we do have four more years to go that we can keep checking in on how things are coming along. And I would say that there is a certain gradual ramp up curve associated with this stuff. So, I'm hoping that you know by a year or two and especially years three and four will be going kind of gangbusters here on the bill implementation side. So, you should be even more exciting times ahead.
[00:13:04] Brian: OK, that sounds great. I look forward to having those discussions. Yeah, well, we have to keep checking with you and uh in November to see how things are going. So. So thanks again for your time, Joung. I appreciate it as always.
[00:13:16] Joung: Alright, really great to see you guys.
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