April 01, 2020

Vantage Point

J.B. Ruhl

In Latin, infra means “below,” and structura means “a fitting together.” The French coined the term infrastructure in the 1800s to refer to the pipes, sewers, tunnels, and other systems found largely underground in cities. Today, infrastructure is everywhere—below ground, on the surface, in the air, and in the ubiquitous “cloud.” Not much would get done in modern society without all our infrastructure. But infrastructure does not always work as planned. It is costly to design and construct. It wears out. It becomes obsolete. New social and economic developments demand new forms of infrastructure. In short, designing, planning, funding, constructing, repairing, replacing, modifying, and innovating infrastructure is a never-ending challenge.

Infrastructure cuts across the three domains of our Section. Infrastructure is vital to the development, transmission, and consumption of energy resources. The construction, use, and occasional failure of infrastructure can have significant impacts on the environment. Physical infrastructure requires raw materials that are often obtained through extraction of natural resources. It is likely that at some point, every member of our Section has come across infrastructure as the context of a practice matter.

To put it bluntly, our nation, like many others, has a double-barreled infrastructure problem. First, much of the infrastructure in our nation is past its prime, to say the least. We will need to rebuild and repair it. Second, new challenges looming on the horizon—chiefly, climate change—will demand new kinds of infrastructure. The articles in this issue address both themes in the context of three core infrastructure systems—energy, flood control, and transportation.

Energy infrastructure is one of the most dynamic fields of practice and policy. Sam Kalen and Shi-Ling Hsu open the series of articles on that theme with a comprehensive overview and assessment of the evolving law and policy of natural gas pipelines. Ariana Barusch then opens the lens on a broader array of energy transmission infrastructures in her article on federal public land energy corridors. The focus then shifts to energy justice with Achinthi Vithanage’s article on the equity concerns posed by the burgeoning demand for electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Coty Montag continues that theme in her article on the disparate impacts of municipal power policies on minority populations.

The next series of articles focuses on flood control infrastructure, a pressing concern as sea-level rise and stronger storms become the new normal. Joel Scata’s article opens the theme with an outline of the shifts taking place in national flood protection policies. Next, Anastasi Telesetsky’s article on living shorelines explores the legal and policy context of natural infrastructure as a coastal flood control measure. The series closes with Arthur Smith’s article drawing lessons from the nation most experienced in holding off the sea—the Netherlands.

The final series of articles covers the infrastructure we use to move us from point A to point B—transportation. Robert Thornton and David Miller address the funding side of transportation in their thorough discussion of developments in public-private partnership arrangements. Turning to transportation infrastructure design, Karrigan Bork and Andrew Rypel provide an overview of policies supporting wildlife-friendly corridors in transportation infrastructure. David McCray and Jacob Duginski then close the series (and the issue) with their article on the transportation infrastructure future we are all anticipating—the world of autonomous, connected vehicles. Talk about infrastructure!


J.B. Ruhl

Issue Editor