Tuesday, April 24, 2012

House Passes Controversial Version Of Surface Transportation Bill

Apr 18: The U.S. House of Representatives passed its own version of an extension of surface transportation law by a vote of 293 to 127. Republicans said the bill, H.R.4348, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, "includes important provisions to significantly cut the red tape that delays highway and bridge projects across the country. The measure also includes a provision that will lower energy costs for Americans and decrease reliance on unstable foreign sources of energy." The House-passed bill included two highly controversial provisions from the Energy and Commerce Committee including requiring approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and the management and reuse of coal ash.
    On March 14, the full Senate approved S.1813, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), a two-year $109 billion surface transportation bill by a vote of 74-22. Funding for the Surface Transportation program which was set to expire on March 31, was extended 90-days to June 30 [See WIMS 3/30/12].
    The day before the House approval, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy indicating, "The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 4348." The Administration which supported the Senate bill said the House bill, which would simply extend current authority through the end of the fiscal year, "would miss a critical opportunity to provide more certainty to States and localities as they undertake the long-term planning and execution of projects and programs that are essential to creating and keeping American workers in good paying jobs, improving the Nation's surface transportation infrastructure, and ensuring roadway safety."
    The White House said further, ". . .the Administration is strongly opposed to this bill because it seeks to circumvent a longstanding and proven process for determining whether cross-border pipelines are in the national interest and for assessing the environmental impacts by mandating the permitting of the Keystone XL pipeline project, despite the fact that the pipeline route has yet to be identified and there is no complete assessment of its potential impacts, including impacts on health and safety, the economy, foreign policy, energy security, and the environment. . ."
    Representative John Mica (R-FL), Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and primary sponsor of the bill said, "This bill contains no tax increases, earmarks, or new federal government programs, which may disappoint Democrats, but this legislation will help move the process forward in working to resolve differences with the Senate. When the President first sold the stimulus as an infrastructure bill, he failed to address the red tape that delays the approval of transportation projects. 'Shovel-ready' became a national joke because it takes so long to get the bureaucratic approvals for a project. This bill includes important provisions to significantly reduce the red tape that leaves projects and jobs behind."

    Rep. Mica continued, "This bill also includes provisions to help ensure funds collected for the maintenance and improvement of our nation's harbors are invested for that purpose. In addition, this bill moves forward with the Keystone pipeline project. While the Administration meanders on developing any kind of real energy policy, this measure will help lower energy costs and create jobs for Americans, particularly important as gasoline prices continue to skyrocket because of the squeeze that the Obama Administration has put on production of our energy assets here at home."

    Representative John Duncan, Jr. (R-TN), Chairman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee said, "This legislation will allow programs to continue through the fiscal year and provide predictability during the summer construction season. The environmental streamlining provisions would also eliminate duplication by providing a single system to review decisions. It reduces bureaucratic delay by requiring concurrent, instead of consecutive, project reviews and setting deadlines for the completion of environmental reviews. These changes will cut the delivery process in half and save taxpayers a great deal of money."

    House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) praised the House passed legislation and said, "The House is on record again in support of the Keystone XL energy pipeline -- a project President Obama blocked, personally lobbied against, then tried to take credit for, and now says he'll veto. There's no telling where the president stands from one day to the next on Keystone, but he knows the pipeline has broad and bipartisan support in Congress and among the American people. He knows it will create tens of thousands of new American jobs. And he knows that if he continues to stand in the way, the Canadian government will bypass the United States and ship their energy – and the jobs that come with it -- to countries like China.

    "Keystone is a critical part of our 'all of the above' energy strategy. The higher energy prices go, the more we all pay for everything from gasoline to groceries, and it's taking a real toll on families and small businesses. That's why I hope President Obama and Senate Democrats will get moving, and join the American people and Republicans in supporting this common-sense bill."

    Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, and sponsor of the Senate-passed bill issued a statement saying, "The fact that the House voted to take a step forward on a surface transportation bill is encouraging -- as long as they follow through and immediately appoint conferees so that Congress can complete its work and get a bill to the President's desk. I have spoken to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and he has committed to appoint Senate conferees as soon as Senate Rules allow. The final bill must be truly bipartisan so it can pass both Houses of Congress. The economic recovery really depends on our bipartisan action, because the transportation and construction sectors have such a huge impact on the nation's economy."
    Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the EPW Committee and a cosponsor of the Senate bill said, "I am pleased that the House has passed its short-term highway bill extension, as it means that the Senate and the House can proceed to conference on a long-term highway bill. Now we can get to the important work of providing much-needed funding to states to build and repair our nation's highways and bridges, and we can make crucial reforms to the federal highway program to ensure the taxpayer's money is best spent. I look forward to joining my colleagues in this bicameral, bipartisan effort as we work together to get the highway bill to the President's desk." 
    House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) issued a statement saying, "Today, the House took a stand for jobs and affordable energy. For too long, President Obama's policies have put American jobs, our economy, and our energy security at risk. Today, we tell the president enough is enough. If he won't lead, Congress will. The legislation we passed today will protect thousands of jobs from the administration's dangerous overreach, prevent higher energy costs, and put our nation on a path toward greater energy security.  Families and business across the country are desperate for relief from high gas prices, and still the president refuses to act on the Keystone XL pipeline. . ." Regarding the coal ash amendment, Rep. Upton said, ". . .coal ash is safely and responsibly managed without sacrificing jobs. The amendment adopted today is necessary to escape the costly repercussions of EPA's heavy-handed approach to regulation, which could put as many as 300,000 jobs at risk and drive up electricity rates.
    Access a release from House Republicans on the Transportation Committee (click here). Access the White House statement of policy (click here). Access a release from Speaker Boehner (click here). Access a release from Sen. Boxer (click here). Access a release from Sen. Inhofe (click here).  Access a release from Rep. Upton (click here). Access legislative details for H.R.4348 (click here). Access legislative details for S.1813 (click here). [#Transport]
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