Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Conference Committee On Surface Transportation Program

May 8: The House-Senate Conference Committee to resolve the substantial differences between the two versions of the reauthorization of the Highway Surface Transportation program held their first meeting [See WIMS 4/26/12] . The House version, H.R.4348, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, provides a short-term extension and includes highly controversial provisions requiring approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and the management and reuse of coal ash. The Senate version, S.1813, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), provides a two-year $109 billion surface transportation reauthorization. A number of members of the Conference Committee issued opening statements. The following summarized statements represent some of the issues to be considered.
    House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) indicated that, "Other important matters in the House-passed bill include a path for expedited approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and a state-based regulatory framework for the safe management, re-use, and disposal of coal ash. While the connection between these items and a transportation and infrastructure package might not seem obvious, in fact, these policies make perfect sense in the context of this package. Coal ash is a widely used component in construction materials including concrete, so the regulatory regime governing its management has a direct effect on the cost and durability of our roads and bridges. EPA's proposal to reclassify this material as a hazardous waste would make road construction more expensive, the infrastructure we build may not last as long, and the liability -- which translates to cost -- would be higher for everyone."
    Senator Barbara Boxer, sponsor of the Senate Bill and Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee said, "I trust we all know how fortunate and blessed we are to have this opportunity to save or create three million jobs and protect thousands of businesses as we meet the needs of America's transportation system. . . If Senator Inhofe and Senator Boxer can agree on a bill, then we can all agree. If Senator Sessions and Senator Sanders can agree, then we can all agree. If Senator Baucus and Senator Blunt can agree, then we can all agree. Now some pundits and experts have predicted gloom and doom when it comes to this bill. They were wrong in the past, and they are wrong now. . .
We have the wind at our backs, because we have a Senate bill (MAP-21) that is a reform bill that received 74 votes in favor. It protects and creates three million jobs - one million of those because of an expanded TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) program that has strong support. . ."
    House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) said, "The federal government's slow, cumbersome bureaucracy is consistently getting in the way of job creation and economic growth. Nowhere is this more evident than infrastructure and energy projects, where burdensome red tape and duplicative federal programs hamstring the ability to approve projects and get Americans working. For this conference report to be considered a success, meaningful reforms need to be made to streamline government inefficiencies for infrastructure projects. Similarly, approving the Keystone Pipeline is an opportunity to address high gasoline prices, put Americans to work and reduce America's dependence on unfriendly Middle Eastern oil. . . At the last minute, the Senate added several other unrelated pieces of legislation to its version of the highway bill. . . Among these are one-year extensions of the Payment-In-Lieu-of-Taxes and the Secure Rural Schools programs [and] the RESTORE Act, which would direct funds to Gulf states affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill . . ."
    Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) Chairman of the Finance Committee said, "Construction season has started. Fourteen thousand Montana jobs and 1.6 million jobs across America depend on this Highway Bill. The bipartisan Senate bill received a unanimous vote from the Environment and Public Works Committee's 18 urban, rural, western, eastern, northern, southern, progressive and conservative Senators. And 75 percent of the Senate supported it. . . I worked with members of both parties to achieve three goals: guarantee funding through September 2013; not add to the deficit; and keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent moving forward. . . Over the next two years, we put $9.2 billion into the Highway Trust Fund, covering the cost of the bill and leaving a $3.6 billion cushion. In total, we put $14 billion into the Highway Trust Fund over ten years.  This actually reduces the deficit by $10 billion over the 10-year budget window. . ."
    Senator John (Jay) Rockefeller (D-WV) Chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee said, "I am hopeful that this conference will lead to a bi-partisan compromise that ends with the bill being signed into law. We know that surface transportation programs play a critical role in all aspects of our lives, and everyone can agree about the need to improve the efficiency and capacity of our transportation system. . . the Senate bill contains a range of smart safety improvements with wide bipartisan support here and outside this room. . . I want to urge everyone to focus on the issues at hand and not try to bring up extraneous issues that are certain to derail this process.   Environmental riders are not relevant to this transportation bill and more importantly – pushing them in this venue may score political points but it won't get us a bill. . ."
    Representative John Mica (R-FL), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said, "We all share a commitment to build our nation's infrastructure and this legislation must do so responsibly. It must be paid for, it must not raise taxes, it must not include earmarks, and it must not add to federal bureaucracy. . . I am concerned that the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund is at risk, however the solution to the Trust Fund solvency problem is not more deficit spending or General Fund transfers. The solution is major reform of programs, cutting wasteful spending and reining in the federal bureaucracy. Federal programs are broken when red tape bogs down major highway projects for up to 15 years, increasing project costs and leaving jobs behind. . . All of my House Transportation and Infrastructure Conferees are committed to serious reform as part of any legislation we produce. Real reform is necessary for House Republicans to support funding a surface transportation bill."   
    Access the complete statement from Rep. Upton (click here). Access the complete statement from Sen. Boxer (click here). Access the complete statement from Rep. Hastings (click here). Access the complete statement from Sen. Baucus (click here). Access the complete statement from Sen. Rockefeller (click here). Access the complete statement from Rep. Mica (click here). Access legislative details for H.R.4348 (click here). Access legislative details for S.1813 (click here). [#Transport]
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