LANSING, West Virginia — S
“I came up with a Republican plan, working with the other ranking members on committees to formulate a Republican response, ” Capito said in an interview with the Washington Examiner. She was referring to her work with fellow Republican Sens. Roger Wicker, Pat Toomey, Mike Crapo, and John Barrasso of Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Idaho, and Wyoming, respectively. They are the ranking members, respectively, on the committees for transportation, banking, finance, and energy.
Capito is the ranking Republican committee member on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
The former House member who won her U.S. Senate seat in 2014 said she and other Senate Republicans decided, after watching Biden talk about his $2.2 trillion infrastructure package, that they could not agree with many of his proposals.
“However," she said, "we do believe that physical core infrastructure is critical, and those are the places where we can find common ground.”
She said the Republican plan was put together two weeks ago. Since then, there have been robust discussions with the White House on how the two sides can come together.
Capito said she has also had direct talks with Biden.
“I have been talking with them, quite a bit … I'm going to keep moving forward until somebody tells me not to,” she said.
"The Republican Roadmap" outlined by Capito is set at $568 billion over five years. It would raise no new taxes, would keep the 2017 tax cuts in place, would be paid for with user fees, and is a very traditional infrastructure project. Its items include roads, bridges, public transit systems, rail transit systems, drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, ports and inland waterways, water storage, and broadband.
“The broadband encompasses not just people who don't have broadband at all but the underserved where the delivery is sub-par, and you can't really use it to remote learn or remote work,” she said of populations that tend to be centralized in rural America.
One of the complexities of Biden’s plan is that while he promises lots of rebuilding projects, he also promises everything be done with strident climate justice compliances, compliances that could depend on local health departments or governments that could withhold or delay permitting under pressure from climate activists.
“One of the things the president says is ‘build back better,’ but you have to be able to build it, to build back better,” Capito emphasized.
“I think a critical aspect of an infrastructure package is a permitting streamlining that saves time and money. And then, if you can't get to where you need to be, then you don't invest the money,” she said.
Capito said some people see that streamlining as a red flag and interpret that as cutting corners. “It's not that," she said. "It's just cutting time, and then having the bureaucrats be responsive in a reasonable amount of time.”
The dean of the West Virginia delegation said streamlining permitting is going to be critical:
“I mean, we've seen pipelines that can't get built, pipelines that are being stopped. Personally, I think that's a fool's errand. I'd rather have gas, natural gas going underground than on the roads for safety reasons, but also because of the volatility issues.”
She stresses you can’t build charging stations for electric cars without permits; Biden has proposed spending at least $15 billion as part of his infrastructure plan to begin rolling out electric vehicle charging stations.
Capito had been in Fayetteville to mark the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, America’s 63rd and newest national park. The unveiling of the signage on this site was especially meaningful for her because the span that gave this area its fame began with her father and his insistence that a bridge — "infrastructure," in today's parlance — needed to be built here.
Since then, the majestic span, known as the New River Gorge Bridge, has taken on a life of its own: For the past 40 years, every third Saturday in October is Bridge Day, a massive festival during which the span is shut down to vehicular traffic and open to pedestrians as well as rappelers and parachutists from around the world.
Capito said the single-arch steel span, which sits 876 feet above the riverbed, is the third-highest bridge in the United States.
“My dad was governor in the '70s," she said. "He started the project because these two areas of West Virginia there, Fayette County and Raleigh County, needed connectivity, and they needed the infrastructure. Since then, this bridge has become so much more than a beautiful expanse over the New River Gorge; it has also provided some economic development.”
She pointed to the rock climbing, rafting, hiking, warm-water fishing, biking, kayaking, and canoeing that happens in the deep gorge and the surrounding wooded mountains filled with hemlocks, laurels, and pines.
These are the kinds of things people don’t realize that can evolve from a good infrastructure project, like this bridge, that have a long-lasting economic impact.
“I'm proud of that, his legacy. It's been a fun thing for me to watch it sort of expand and become so much more than just a four-lane bridge.”