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Washington Update: July 21, 2009

Bike Laws

July 21, 2009

Senate EPW Committee Examines Transportation's Role in Climate Change

Last week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held several climate hearings as they worked to develop a companion to the American Clean Energy and Security Act (HR 2454), which was passed last month by the House. In a hearing on Tuesday to examine transportation's role in climate change, members signaled their interest in boosting funding for public transit and other transportation alternatives. The House bill includes several transportation-related emissions goals, but would only allow up to 1 percent of allocations to be used by states to fund public transit and non-motorized transportation projects. Members of the EPW Committee, including Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) and Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA), have supported requiring as much as 10 percent of cap-and-trade revenues to be used for such projects.

The Senate EPW Committee is not expected to markup climate legislation until after the August recess, and they have delayed the release of draft language until early September. Six other committees will also have jurisdiction over this bill as well.

TAKE ACTION: The remaining summer weeks are a crucial time to build support for dedicating 10% of climate revenues to smart growth and green transportation by getting more co-sponsors on CLEAN-TEA. Call your Senator today and ask them to co-sponsor CLEAN-TEA (S. 575). Find talking points, support letter templates and more on the SGA Action page.

Current CLEAN-TEA co-sponsors: Senators Carper (DE), Specter (PA), Lautenberg (NJ), Cardin (MD), Merkley (OR).

Senate Committee Approves 18-month Extension to SAFETEA-LU

Debate continues between the House and Senate on how to prioritize transportation with competing issues in the short time before the August recess. Last week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a clean, 18-month extension of the current transportation law, SAFETEA-LU, by an 18-1 vote. Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) was the only Senator to vote no. The bill would provide about $41 billion in 2010 and $20.5 billion in 2011. According to Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) there will be a 50% increase over SAFETEA-LU levels in the next 18 months when the remaining $30 billion in stimulus funding is added in. Senator Boxer made it clear that she would be open to amendments for policy change on the floor, but did not want the committee to pass anything but a clean extension.

Last month, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit approved the $450 billion Surface Transportation Authorization Act (STAA). In a hearing in the House this week, there was unanimous agreement that the 18-month extension, proposed by the Administration, is unacceptable and that the full committee and the House should move forward with STAA. Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) said that that the impending Highway Trust Fund shortfall should be addressed by the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction, in order to sustain it until October when he wants a new, six-year transportation law to be in place. He also suggested that if the Senate passes its extension bill and the House approves STAA, differences could be worked out in a conference committee between both chambers.

Transportation Research Bill Approved by House Subcommittee

On Wednesday, the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation unanimously approved a bill to reauthorize the Transportation Department's surface transportation research program. The legislation, HR 2569, instructs DOT to tailor its research toward finding ways to reduce VMT, curb congestion and decrease the emissions and energy consumption that result from transportation construction and maintenance. No funding was included during the subcommittee mark, but funding levels are expected to be set before the full committee vote. During the last five years the Surface Transportation Research, Development and Deployment Program has been funded at $196.4 million annually.

The legislation requires grants for the establishment and operation of university transportation centers to research green transportation infrastructure. An amendment was offered by Judy Biggert (R-IL) proposing a competitive grant program that would only be open to existing centers, leaving new centers without grant eligibility. This amendment was withdrawn when Subcommittee Chair David Wu (D-OR) agreed to work together on resolving issues with green research programs. An amendment from Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), designed to better quantify the impact of earmarking on transportation research and development, was unanimously approved. It will require the strategic plan to detail the competitiveness of current research and technology-transfer projects and whether increasing the proportion of competitive, merit reviewed activities might further the objectives of the plan. Other amendments offered included efforts to limit funding for climate change research, which were not approved. There was discussion about the term "community livability" and whether it was "ill-defined", as characterized by Ranking Member Adrian Smith (R-NE). Chairman Wu said that the term was intentionally broad, reasoning that the elasticity of the term offered choices to varying types of communities.

House Pushes to Clear Spending Bills before August Recess

The House continues to work quickly on the three outstanding Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations bills in an effort to clear all of the funding bills before leaving Capitol Hill for their August recess. Friday, the House Appropriations Committee approved a $123.1 billion spending bill. This includes $47 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and $75.8 billion for the Department of Transportation. This is an $8.6 billion increase over Fiscal Year 2009 funding levels for DOT, but $1.7 billion less than President Obama requested. Included in this number is $4 billion for high-speed and intercity passenger rail. An amendment was offered to transfer $3 billion of the high-speed rail money over to the Highway Trust Fund, since the Administration only requested $1 billion for fiscal 2010. The amendment was not approved.

The Transportation-HUD spending bill provides an opportunity for Congress to transfer funding into the Highway Trust fund account, which is expected to run out of money in August. During the subcommittee mark it was decided not to transfer $36.1 billion from the general fund, but rather to raise the obligation limitation to $41.1 billion.

The House Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee allocated $25 million to the Brownfields Economic Development Initiative (BEDI) program, and $6 million to HUD Section 108. After the Obama Administration's budget "zeroed" both programs, the National Brownfields Coalition, of which SGA is a partner, wrote letters to the respective House and Senate appropriations committees. The letters call attention to the unique role these programs play in financing large scale redevelopment projects, including site preparation not funded by the EPA Brownfields Program. The $25 million for the BEDI Program brings the program back to the level of funding typical of the years 2002-2005. (Brownfields update courtesy of the Northeast Midwest Institute)

More information will be available when the committee releases the bill language.

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