Federal transportation bill would drive fiscal accountability and environmental protections into a ditch
The House of Representatives majority leadership released a sweeping transportation bill yesterday that would upend long-accepted practices for how the nation’s highways, bridges are planned and built, gutting basic environmental safeguards for air and water quality and green space, and deepening our dependence on oil. It also threatens coastal communities and ecology by opening up the Atlantic for the first time to oil and gas drilling.
The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act is expected to be in mark-up in the House Natural Resources Committee today, and in mark-up in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee tomorrow.
“This bill is less about creating jobs and more about giving the green light to the oil industry and road-builders,” said Navis Bermudez, SELC deputy legislative director. “The House leadership is clearly not interested in providing Americans a fiscally and environmentally sound transportation system for the 21st century. By contrast, the Senate sees this bill for the political grandstanding that it is, and has indicated it will not take the bill seriously.”
The bill holds some especially dangerous proposals for the South, including:
- Exempting highway projects that are declared to be for economic development from any review under the National Environmental Policy Act, a bedrock law that ensures opportunity for citizen input and a reasonable calculation as to the cost-benefit of such projects. If the law were in effect, hugely expensive and unnecessary highways in the South would likely be on a fast-track for approval:
o Northern Beltline in Birmingham, AL-$4.7 billion
o Garden Parkway and Monroe Bypass in Charlotte, NC-$960 million and $800 million
o I-526 Extension in Charleston, SC-$489 million
o I-73 in Myrtle Beach, SC-$2.4 billion
o I-75/575 Expansion in Atlanta-$1 billion
o U.S. 460 Expansion in Virginia-$1.6 billion
o U.S. 29 Bypass in Charlottesville, VA-$250 million
- Opening the Virginia coast to offshore oil drilling to pay for the transportation bill, despite the administration’s decision in December to delay a controversial lease sale. In addition to threatening the environment and coastal economies, relying on uncertain revenue from drilling instead of the existing gas tax to fund the nation’s transportation infrastructure is risky business; even fiscal conservatives object to this change.
- Severely cutting funding for Amtrak at a time when ridership on Virginia and North Carolina lines is rising faster than any others in the country;
- Failing to prioritize repair of crumbling bridges; there are over 22,000 structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges in SELC’s six-state region.
- Spending almost eight times more on project loans while eliminating key criteria for reviewing loan applications that help ensure taxpayer funds are spent wisely