Senate Transportation Bill Veers Off Course, Says NRDC

Clean Air and Environmental Protections Steamrolled; Transit and Stormwater Funding Preserved

WASHINGTON (February 13, 2004) -- If enacted, the bill the U.S. Senate approved last night -- the "Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act" (S. 1072) -- would increase air pollution and cut off public participation in the transportation project decisionmaking process, according to an analysis by NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council).

"This bill would take us back to the time when building highways took precedence over public health, and when people had little or no say in transportation decisions that affect their communities," said Deron Lovaas, deputy director of NRDC's Smart Growth Program. "Environmental protections shouldn't end up as roadkill in the rush to pass a federal transportation bill."

Specifically, the bill would undermine Clean Air Act and National Environmental Policy Act protections, Lovaas said. For example, the bill weakens Clean Air Act rules controlling air pollution from sprawl by allowing highway projects to be built without considering their long-term affect on air pollution. Rather than considering emissions from cars and trucks traveling on new roads in 20-year transportation plans, the bill would allow road builders to project pollution increases for just the first 10 years.

Despite these leaps backward, the bill does take a few steps in the right direction, Lovaas added. It would require authorities to consider wildlife and sprawl issues in transportation plans. It also contains a new six-year, $958 million program to reduce water pollution from transportation project runoff. And while the bill's $56 billion for transit does not adequately increase funding for public transportation, at least this level -- relative to highway funding -- is comparable with current law.

"These are modest steps, but we are grateful for measures that would improve planning, reduce stormwater pollution, and retain a commitment to public transit," said Lovaas.

Now the House of Representatives must pass a bill, Congress must reconcile differences between the two chambers' proposals, and the White House must sign a final bill. NRDC and other conservation organizations will continue the fight to strip the harmful provisions from the legislation while protecting its modest steps forward.