Senate Advances Transportation Bill
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved a plan to spend $275 billion on roads over the next six years on June 24. The bill increases funding, adds a freight projects program that would be allocated to states on a formula basis and creates a new grant program for major projects to be selected by the Federal Highway Administration but approved by Congress on a project-by-project basis. The spending is contingent upon lawmakers coming up with a way to pay for it, but the sponsors of the measure said that its approval is a first step toward solving the nation’s infrastructure funding problems.
The measure, known as the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act, calls for appropriating nearly $43 billion per year to the federal government’s highway program.
Key Takeaways from the Bill:
- Tolling: The proposed legislation includes a provision that would allow states to apply more easily to the Department of Transportation (DOT) for approval to install additional tolls on existing roads. This approach is consistent with our Coalition’s agenda.
- National Freight Program: The bill adds a freight projects program that would be allocated to states on a formula basis. This is in line with our Coalition’s statements that resources need to be focused on important freight corridors.
- Major Projects Program: The bill creates a new grant program for major projects to be selected by the Federal Highway Administration but approved by Congress on a project-by-project basis. Its intent appears to harmonize with the objectives of the National Freight Program. It also appears to be similar to Projects of National and Regional Significance (PNRS) – which our Coalition has previously supported.
Our Coalition will be extending a letter of thanks to the committee members, especially Chairman Inhofe (R-OK) and Ranking Member Boxer (D-CA), and Senators Capito (R-WV) and Gillibrand (R-NY). We hope your chamber will, too.
Lawmakers still face a July 31 deadline for the expiration of the current infrastructure measure, but are deadlocked on how to pay for an extension. We will continue to provide updates as Congress wrestles with transportation infrastructure funding.
Clean Power Plan Updates
Supreme Court Blocks EPA’s Mercury Rules: The Supreme Court rejected EPA’s first-ever limits on mercury and other airborne toxic emissions from power plants on Monday, finding that the agency should have considered compliance costs when deciding whether to regulate the utility sector. This is a win for industry and coal-heavy states; however, this decision does not change the rule’s impact. Since its going into effect in April, nearly two-thirds of the affected plants either have installed the necessary pollution controls to comply or have been marked for closure by their owners. However, there’s a chance it may give the EPA some pause in its carbon emissions rule-making, due to be unveiled in August.
Senate Holds Hearing on Clean Power Plan Costs (CPP): The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee’s Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety held a hearing to examine the cost impacts of the CPP on businesses, rural communities and families. Paul N. Cicio, President of the Industrial Energy Consumers of America (IECA), a nonpartisan association of leading manufacturing companies with $1.0 trillion in annual sales, noted that the IECA finds that the CPP is incompatible with numerous practical and technical aspects of America’s electricity system, and would represent a vast expansion of the agency’s regulatory reach into the authority held by states and other federal regulatory agencies. He indicated that, in effect, the CPP dictates environmental, and energy and economic policy – something the authors of the Clean Air Act never intended.
House Passes the Whitfield Bill (HR 2042): This bill permits states to decline to implement the CPP and passed by a vote of 247-180. Here is the roll-call vote tally, so you can see how members from the Great Lakes region voted. The prospects for a companion Senate bill are speculative and the Obama Administration has also issued a veto threat.
House Delays Final Action on the Interior-EPA Appropriations Bill: The House has delayed final action on the Interior-EPA Appropriations bill until after the July 4 recess. The White House has released its Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) letter opposing the bill. The eight-page SAP specifically notes that the Administration “strongly objects” to the rider on the House bill that would prohibit funds to finalize and implement the CPP rule.
Indiana Will Not Comply: Indiana joined the growing number of states, including Wisconsin that are threatening not to comply with the CPP rule. Here is the link to the press release on the letter Governor Pence sent criticizing the rule because it would sharply raise electricity costs and harm the state’s economy. Pence described the proposed rule as a “vast overreach of federal power that exceeds the EPA’s proper legal authority.”
SKILLS Visa Act Delayed
At the end of April, we reported that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) was working on introducing a new version of the SKILLS Visa Act, which was introduced late in the previous Congress. The bill is significant because it could become a primary vehicle for the high-skilled immigration issue. Since then we’ve had little progress to report. There are several issues delaying the bill’s introduction. Rep. Issa and the Judiciary Committee are reportedly still working through some outstanding issues regarding wages for H-1B workers. Additionally, there is a desire in leadership to keep the bill text close to the chest until they’re ready to finally move immigration legislation to the floor. Finally, some members are still talking about using the bill as a way to pay for the Highway Trust Fund. The idea is to use the revenue that is projected to materialize from allowing more high-skilled workers into the country and then redirect it toward the Highway Trust Fund. It is unclear how this would work from the standpoint of the Congressional Budget Office scoring and practice.
If immigration reform legislation is going to move in the House, it may come up in the fall. This is also dependent on how issues relating to government funding and the federal debt limit play out during the fall. More specifically, current fiscal year funding for the government will expire on September 30 and Congress is expected to need to raise the federal debt ceiling around that time as well, which may complicate the prospects for immigration reform legislation.
More Outreach with Presidential Campaigns: Bobby Jindal
At a recent campaign event in New Hampshire, our friends at K&L Gates were in attendance and asked Governor Jindal (R-LA) if he supported funding harbor maintenance funding consistent with the intent expressed by Congress rather than holding back substantial portions Governor Jindal said absolutely that the funds should go for their intended purpose. Click here to see video. The question and answer runs from 29:45 to 34:15.
In the News….
Asian Carp in the Upper Mississippi?: A recent NPR piece on the permanent shutdown of the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock & Dam in Minneapolis cites concerns about the spread of Asian carp leading Congress to mandate the permanent shutdown of commercial barge navigation on the northernmost stretch of the Mississippi River. However, another report indicates that the closure is more likely related to local politics and the desire to drive barge companies and other industrial waterfront businesses away from the valuable waterfront property to free it up for redevelopment into luxury condos and retail projects that the city has been promoting for decades.
The spread of Asian Carp is more than just an issue for the lakes. The spread of this invasive species affects the watersheds of the Midwest. To see how close Asian Carp are to your region, please see the following maps of the leading edge in the Illinois Waterway and in the Ohio and Upper Mississippi Rivers.
Northeast-Midwest Institute to Host Capitol Hill Briefing titled “Water Data to Answer Urgent Water Policy Questions: Harmful Algal Blooms, Agriculture, and Lake Erie:” Following the release of the Northeast-Midwest Institute’s study on water quality monitoring in the Lake Erie drainage basin, the Institute will host a Capitol Hill briefing on July 14 to provide an overview of the study’s findings and recommendations for improving water quality monitoring. Given recent announcements by the States of Ohio and Michigan and the Province of Ontario to reduce nutrient inputs by 40%, efficient, effective, and coordinated monitoring will be essential for evaluating management practices to improve the health of Lake Erie.
Help with Defense Industry Diversification: Is your community feeling the effects of defense industry contract cancellations? The Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment offers a grant program for communities that have been impacted, are currently impacted or anticipate being impacted. There are several organizations in the Great Lakes region that have already taken advantage of this opportunity: DMAP – Michigan, Ohio, Indiana; Northeast PA; Oshkosh WI; Ohio Statewide Planning; and Allen County, OH.
Learn more about the program by viewing the program outline and by viewing brief profiles of the projects that are already being funded. For more information on this opportunity, contact Rebecca Schneider at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Senate Creates a Caucus for Competitiveness: The recent creation of the Competitiveness Caucus in the U.S. Senate was hailed by Detroit Regional Chamber president, Sandy Baruah, a former senior fellow for The Council on Competitiveness. The Caucus is designed to help the U.S. sustain its innovation economy, including its manufacturing edge. Baruah said the caucus will be an important forum for business, academic and government leaders to highlight critical issues as the country continues to build on its role as a world leader in innovation. Guided by The Council on Competitiveness, the caucus will develop cohesive policies on transportation infrastructure funding and streamlining regulations for growth in order for U.S. businesses to maintain their competitive edge.