The last time Congress enacted a federal surface transportation law was back in 2005 and it was supposed to be replaced by a new law in 2009. Instead, the law has been “extended” temporarily nine times and now, once again, it is set to expire on June 30. If that happens, thousands of construction workers will be off the job as funding dries up for transportation projects across the country.
Back in February, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bi-partisan bill to fund the nation’s transportation needs. But the House of Representatives stalled and stalled, until finally passing a “shell” bill that contained no real transportation elements. Instead, the House bundled (bungled?) together a bill consisting of only a few controversial non-transportation provisions aimed at weakening environmental and health protections. That triggered a Senate-House conference committee, which has spent the past several weeks negotiating a final deal on transportation legislation.
What the House should have done is accept the compromise bill put forward by the Senate. That better, bi-partisan bill would provide much-needed funding to repair and rebuild America’s roads, railways, bridges, and other infrastructure -- as well as cover costs for public transportation. But GOP leaders in the House have been hell-bent on forcing Senators to accept several “riders” – most notably, provisions that would weaken environmental laws and public oversight of highway projects, force approval of the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, and prevent EPA from strengthening health standards for the disposal of toxic coal ash waste.
It is crucial that Congress pass transportation legislation to put Americans to work and lessen our country’s reliance on oil. House Republicans say they support jobs, so why are they holding up the transportation bill?
- NEPA: One of the anti-environmental riders is the so-called “environmental streamlining” provisions that will steamroll public participation, environmental review, and community input on multi-million dollar projects that affect the health, economy, and environment of our communities. The extreme provisions will completely undermine the National Environmental Policy Act (and undermine compliance with the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act, among other critical laws). The Senate should reject such efforts to shut out public participation and undermining environmental review and laws.
- Keystone XL: Another rider would mandate approval of this unnecessary and dangerous cross-continental tar sands pipeline. This massive, dirty-energy project would threaten the air, water, and land of millions of Americans, transporting toxic tar sands oil from Canada to Oklahoma. The Senate has already voted down such a provision and President Obama has said he will veto the bill if this language is included. The millions of jobs that would come with the transportation bill should not be derailed for this give-away to Big Oil.
- Coal Ash: The final rider would leave communities at risk from coal ash, the toxic solid waste leftover after coal is burned. There are no current federal standards for disposing of coal ash, so it is often dumped on unassuming communities. Groundwater in nearly 200 locations across the country has already been contaminated by coal ash -- and this rider ensures those numbers will only increase. It takes away the ability for the federal government to ever set a health protective standard and allows the dumping of this ash to continue unchecked. The transportation bill should be about creating American jobs, not polluting American communities.
Put People to Work
By holding the transportation bill hostage to their demands, House Republicans are serving as a roadblock to a bill that would support an estimated 2.9 million jobs.
Senators in both political parties should reject such political gamesmanship over extraneous and controversial provisions. After all, the House failed to even pass its own transportation bill. Without a doubt, if the Senate bill were put up for a vote in the House it would have passed with a bipartisan majority too. Instead, the Republican’s have stalled and are trying to force their ideological bill down the Senate’s throat. It would set a terrible precedent if the Senate receded to the House and sent the public a message that the Republican Party’s inaction and extremism will eventually win the day.
That is why the Senate should stand its ground. If the transportation bill does not past, the House Republicans will take the blame for refusing a reasonable, bipartisan package that creates jobs.