Biden to announce water infrastructure spending push

Vice President Biden on Friday will announce a trio of new federal initiatives designed to spur new infrastructure spending to upgrade the nation’s drinking and waste water systems.

The programs, which Biden will announce following a tour of the Anacostia River Tunnel Project — a massive underground tunnel that will store storm water in an effort to clean up the capital’s notoriously polluted rivers — are the latest effort in a push by the Obama administration to help facilitate local and private spending on infrastructure projects.

The initiatives include a new Water Finance Center at the Environmental Protection Agency that will work to connect local governments and utility companies with federal grants to rebuild sewer systems and keep streams and rivers clean. The White House estimates that some $600 billion in infrastructure improvements will be needed to address water management over the next two decades.

“The new Center will help interested local and state governments to bring private sector investment and expertise into water system construction and management. Among other roles, the center will bring together investors and project sponsors; highlight promising deals; provide peer-to-peer learning and workshops; and develop case studies and toolkits,” the White House said.

Separately, the Department of Agriculture is announcing the “Rural Opportunity Investment Initiative,” which will look to attract private financing for rural water, energy and broadband projects.

And the vice president will unveil a proposal for a new type of municipal bond, called Qualified Public Infrastructure Bonds, which will allow public-private infrastructure projects to raise municipal bonds. 

Currently, projects where private corporations hold long-term management or lease contracts on bridges, roads and tunnels are not eligible for municipal bonds. Under the White House’s plan, those projects would be eligible to do so, lowering the cost of borrowing to help more such projects to get off the ground.

Details of the bonds — and how much they might cost — will be included in the president’s budget, which will be unveiled early next month.