Thursday, June 28, 2012

House & Senate Strike Tentative Deal On Transportation Bill

Jun 27: House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) announced that House and Senate conferees are concluding a bicameral, bipartisan agreement on a major transportation bill. Representative Mica said the measure focuses on unprecedented reforms by cutting red tape and consolidating federal transportation programs. On the Senate side, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member, issued a statement on the agreement which they say has been reached on the transportation conference report. They indicate that the agreement provides funding at current levels through the end of fiscal year 2014, which was one of the highly contentious disagreements between House and Senate bills.

    There were substantial differences between the two versions of the reauthorization of the Highway Surface Transportation program that have resulted in a political standstill. The House version, H.R.4348, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, provided a short-term extension and included highly controversial provisions requiring approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and relaxed standards for the management and reuse of coal ash. The Senate version, S.1813, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), provided a two-year $109 billion surface transportation reauthorization and passed the Senate with 74 votes. The Conference Committee held their first meeting on May 8 [See WIMS 5/09/12]. 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].

    In the latest developments, Representative Mica said, "This agreement will help strengthen our nation's construction industry and provide stability to highway, bridge and infrastructure projects across the country." He called it a "tentative agreement" that establishes federal highway, transit and highway safety policy and keeps programs at current funding levels through the end of fiscal year 2014. Unlike the last transportation bill, which contained over 6,300 earmarks, he said this bill doesn't include any earmarks. He said the bill also does not increase taxes.

    Rep. Mica continued saying, "This is the jobs bill for the 112th Congress. The unprecedented reforms in this legislation -- cutting red tape, truly making projects 'shovel ready,' shrinking the size of the federal bureaucracy, attracting more private sector participation, and giving states more flexibility to address their critical priorities -- will ensure that we more effectively move forward with major highway and bridge improvements and put Americans back to work. The Highway Trust Fund is going bankrupt, and this paid-for measure provides necessary, real reform that focuses our limited resources on critical infrastructure needs. This legislation is specifically designed to reform and consolidate our transportation programs, streamline the bureaucratic project process, and give states more flexibility to save taxpayers' hard-earned money."

    Senator Boxer said, "I couldn't be more pleased to announce, along with my partner Senator Inhofe, that we have a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on a transportation bill which saves and creates millions of jobs. Not only will this reform bill provide a boost to the economy and the construction industry, but it is a big win for the middle class, business, and our environment. This agreement provides stability and flexibility for the nation's transportation planners, invests in America's crumbling roads and bridges, and puts people back to work. I want to thank Senator Inhofe, Rep. John Mica, Rep. Nick Rahall [D-WV], and all the other conferees, and leadership in both the House and Senate for working virtually non-stop to finish this bill."

    Senator Inhofe said, "The agreement struck on the highway conference report is great news for jobs and economic growth in Oklahoma and across the nation. I would like to thank Chairman Boxer for her leadership and the House and Senate conferees for their hard work and for their dedication to getting this bill done. As with any compromise we didn't get everything we wanted, but I believe we truly have a good bill -- one conservatives can be proud to support. Throughout the conference, we strove for solid conservative reforms: we reduced the number of programs by 2/3; eliminated or consolidated those that are duplicative or don't serve a national transportation goal; got rid of numerous bureaucratic hurdles; we were able to slash the lengthy and often duplicative environmental review process from an average of 15 years down to 7; we found ways to increase the role of state and local governments while working to get the federal government out of the way at every opportunity; and we made sure that states were able to spend highway money on their highest priorities rather than being forced to address Washington's priorities. I look forward to Congress passing this bipartisan jobs bill as soon as possible."

    Martin Hayden, vice president for policy and legislation at Earthjustice, issued a statement on the announced deal saying, "Senate Democrats prevailed in getting toxic coal ash and the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline dropped from the final transportation bill. The Senate deserves credit for rightly rejecting plans passed by the House of Representatives that would have put millions of Americans living near coal ash dump sites at risk. . . However, we are very disappointed that the Senate agreed to include a significant weakening of the National Environmental Policy Act, a bedrock environmental law that provides for public information and participation, as it applies to transportation construction projects. Some of these provisions will shut out nearly all stakeholders -- including low-income residents and communities of color, landowners, business owners, and local governments -- from transportation projects affecting the health, economy, and environment of their local communities."

    The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) indicates in a release on the deal that it also includes the RESTORE Act, the legislation that directs BP fines and penalties to go to Gulf Coast restoration. NWF president and CEO Larry Schweiger said, More than two years into the worst oil disaster in America's history, Washington is finally delivering on its promise to make the Gulf whole again. Once BP's fines and penalties have been established, the RESTORE Act will represent one of the most important investments in natural resources in America's history, a critically-needed commitment to Gulf Coast ecosystems and the people who depend on them. All of us now have the responsibility to make sure every dollar is invested in restoring the Gulf's impacted communities and wildlife habitat." NWF also pointed out that the package also includes provisions to reform the National Flood Insurance Program which includes "critical new protections for floodplains and wetlands that provide clean water, wildlife habitat, and the first line of defense against floods and the impacts of a changing climate, while saving taxpayers an estimated $4.7 billion over the next 10 years."

    Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Legislative Director Scott Slesinger issued a statement saying, "Senate Democrats wisely stood up to House Republicans' attempts to use the transportation bill to ram through unrelated, anti-environmental provisions on the Keystone tar sands pipeline and coal ash disposal. But unfortunately, the Senate also agreed to damaging and unnecessary concessions that weaken environmental reviews of highway projects – reducing public oversight and excluding some from review entirely. They also made concessions that cut funding for transportation choices that would reduce traffic, reduce our dependence on oil and improve our health and environment. Given that the House could not even manage to pass a complete bill while the Senate had approved a bipartisan measure, the American people had every reason to expect a better outcome."
    Sierra Club Executive Director, Michael Brune said in part, "Unfortunately, House Republican ideologues sabotaged this chance, proving again they are willing to sacrifice millions of jobs to advance their radical agenda. By being willing to walk away from three million American jobs, House Republicans extracted concessions that will keep our transportation system stuck in reverse. By rolling back critical environmental review laws, they'll curtail the public's ability to have a say on highway and bridge projects in their communities. By undermining efforts to make biking and walking safer and keep our roads and bridges in good repair, they've done their best to ensure we remain dependent on oil and a crumbling infrastructure. When you have extremists in Congress willing to derail the country to push their reckless ideology refusing to negotiate with Senate leaders who want to act to save jobs, the results are grim. Now, we're left with a must-pass bill stripped of its potential. One of the few good things you can say about this bill is that it could have been worse." 

    If a majority of House and Senate conferees approve the conference report, both bodies are then expected to take up the measure before the end of the week, prior to the expiration of the current extension of transportation funding on June 30.

    Access the statement from Rep. Mica (click here). Access the statement from Sens. Boxer and Inhofe (click here). Access the 599-page compromise bill (click here). Access the Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of the Conference and a 91-page summary (click here). Access a release from Earthjustice (click here). Access a release from NWF (click here). Access a release from NRDC (click here). Access a release from Sierra Club (click here). Access links to a number of articles on the transportation deal (click here). Access legislative details for H.R.4348 (click here). Access legislative details for S.1813 (click here). [#Transport]

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