House GOP to Add Pipeline "Poison Pill" to Transportation Bill

The Republican leadership has the temerity to call this horrible package a jobs bill, but it’s actually a measure that will make it impossible to pass a transportation bill – the one true jobs bill Congress could pass this year. Instead of going the bipartisan route taken by the Senate, House Republican leaders have larded up the bill with environmental protection rollbacks, extreme measures that mandate oil drilling just about everywhere, and a permit for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The American people need a transportation bill; this bill will prevent them from getting one.  -- Frances Beinecke, NRDC President

I've heard of "my way or the highway" but this is ridiculous. In an unprecedented move, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is hell-bent on crashing the transportation bill by loading it up with controversial issues that will guarantee more political gridlock. This afternoon Boehner & Co. will unveil their so-called "American Infrastructure and Jobs Act," which is really just a backdoor way to push Big Oil's profits even higher.

Transportation legislation has long been a bi-partisan policy area, as evidenced by two polar opposite politicians co-sponsoring the Senate transportation bill: liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the chair of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, and conservative Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the ranking Republican on the committee. The fact that these two members representing opposite ends of the political spectrum can work together these days on legislation of national importance proves that policy can transcend partisan politics.

Not so in the House of Representatives apparently. Speaker Boehner is pushing legislation -- to be added to the House transportation bill that Congress will take up next -- which proposes to cover a portion of infrastructure funding via royalty revenues from new drilling in protected areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. This "drill and drive" scheme is bad for the environment and makes absolutely no economic sense. In fact, conservative critics of this "bait-and-switch" funding proposal include the Competitive Enterprise Insitute, the Reason Foundation and the Heritage Foundation. As Heritage's CEO Michael Needham told Politico: “As more and more people get educated about this, there are members who are starting to raise eyebrows. That's one of the reasons this is moving so quickly.”

Certainly Sen. Inhofe's eyebrows are raised. He has repeatedly criticized Boehner's proposal for not adding up and for needlessly politicizing the process -- sharply reducing the prospects of passing a new federal surface transportation bill this year. The deadline for doing so is March 31, when the current bill expires. That would force a ninth temporary extenstion over the past three years.

[UPDATE: Today Sen. Inhofe opted to toe the party line by publicly backing away from his previous steadfast criticism of the GOP proposal to tie transportation funding to new drilling. “There is no denying that increased energy production could fund a portion of the bill,” he stated on his website. With a proposed funding level for the transportation bill set at $260 billion for the next five years, even the most generous estimates of the funding that might be derived at some future date from new drilling falls well short of infrastructure needs. In fact, an analysis of the drilling proposals by The Wilderness Society puts potential revenues at $262.5 million over five years -- or less than 1% of transportation funding needs outlined in the House bill. The fact remains that Sen. Inhofe prefers his own bi-partisan transportation bill, which is not hampered by the contentious elements of the House bill. NRDC also prefers the Senate bill as the only viable way toward enacting transportation legislation in Congress this year.]

Making matters worse, Speaker Boehner is also threatening to add another poison pill to the bill. On the weekend talk shows, he said Republican lawmakers will try to force the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline by attaching it to the transportation bill. President Obama recently denied TransCanada's application for the tar sands pipeline. "If (Keystone) is not enacted before we take up the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, it will be part of it," Boehner said on ABC's "This Week" news program.

NRDC has been leading the charge to stop the Keystone pipeline, which would cut through America's heartland to deliver heavy, highly acidic crude oil from Canada all the way to Texas for easy export to other countries. For all the reasons why Keystone is a dirty deal for us, go here.

Given the intense PR battle being wage over the pipeline, Speaker Boehner knows that using the House transportation bill as the policy vehicle to enact the GOP's fossil fuel-friendly agenda will provoke a backlash in the Senate. Best case scenario is two transportation bills -- one passed in the Senate, one in the House -- that cannot be reconciled in a conference committee. Such a stalemate will stymie passage of a new long-term transportation bill to fund much-needed infrastructure improvements, leaving our nation's roads, bridges, rails, runways and ports in disrepair and thousands of Americans out of work. 

When will politicians realize that putting people back to work fixing America's crumbling infrastructure is job one -- not boosting Big Oil's profits?

Unfortunately, by tying transportation programs to controversial and dangerous efforts to require oil drilling in areas that have long been protected, and constructing a dirty oil pipeline, the House Republicans leadership is hijacking a must-pass bill in order to advance an extreme agenda. This is bad policy and bad politics --designed to fail. The result will be that no transportation bill will pass Congress this year, for which you can be sure that Republicans will try to pass the blame. 

The American people need a transportation bill, not a bill to nowhere.