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Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, Part II

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Unknown

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Mr. DeFAZIO. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

Well, it appears that the House has finally found the path out of dysfunction junction. We have been there for too long. We need a long-term, as long a term as possible, transportation bill as soon as possible.

Now, this extension is for 180 days. We can't wait for 180 days to come to agreement with the Senate. We need to go to an expedited conference as soon as possible. We have been gathering data from the individual States since the last 90-day extension 3 weeks ago. The State of North Carolina has canceled $1.2 billion worth of projects, 40,000 jobs, this year.

Other States are reporting in, none quite so drastic, but the grand total is going to be probably

close to 100,000 jobs foregone because of the uncertainty created by these 90-day extensions. It's time to put an end to 90-day extensions. This should be the last one, and we should proceed immediately to conference and begin to work through our differences with the Senate.

Even H.R. 7, which the Republicans couldn't get out of their own conference, they could not get agreement between those 50 or 60 who believe their national transportation policy should be set individually by the 50 States. Wow, what does that mean? And/or transit should be thrown under the bus, or out of the bus, with the other members of the conference saying, wait a minute, that's totally unacceptable to us. They couldn't get the bill out.

But even the fact that they couldn't get the bill out, there's much overlap and agreement between many provisions in H.R. 7 and what the Senate has done. I believe we could conference those areas in disagreement quite promptly.

As the ranking member said, this no longer ends Safe Routes to Schools, something which I opposed in H.R. 7, and other cycling and alternate modes of transportation. It doesn't throw transit out the window or off the bridge, but transit would be in play between the House and the Senate.

During the last stage or authorization of SAFETEA-LU, we had an incredible fight in conference. It wasn't between Democrats and Republicans; it was between the House and the Senate. We fought for a number of weeks over the split between transit and highways and came to a good accommodation, I believe. And hopefully we'll end up close to that in this.

But the Senate bill, which we tried to force a vote on, and had we put that in place 3 weeks ago, instead of the 90-day extension, we wouldn't have lost or been in the process of losing all those contracts and jobs now at the beginning of the construction season. That's about 100,000 jobs potentially lost with more temporary extensions. But we would, instead, have seen another 500,000 jobs, which is the predicted result of the stability of 2 years of funding with the Senate bill.

So, you know, I will support this iteration because I am anxious to get to conference, I am anxious to get agreement. I believe we should get it done before the middle of May so that States can capture this construction season, and we can put a few hundred thousand people who desperately want jobs back to work and those who supply them back to work.

Finally, on the issue of excessive fuel prices, there is only one thing we can do immediately. I mean, the XL pipeline, first off, they say they are going to export it after they refine it. We are exporting gasoline from the United States of America today.

We have prices being set in a world market, and it's being set by speculators on Wall Street. If we just clamp down on the speculation on Wall Street, the head of ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, the St. Louis Federal Reserve, and prominent economists say we could save consumers 60 to 70 cents a gallon tomorrow if we stopped the rip-offs by the people on Wall Street, and the excessive speculation by the people on Wall Street, something that's only been allowed for about a decade.

It didn't used to be allowed for them to control our energy future. So if you want to do something real, that should be part of this bill. XL pipeline can do nothing to help people get lower gas prices.

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Mr. DeFAZIO. Reclaiming my time, I'm afraid I didn't quite catch that. If the gentleman is saying that he wants to originate the letters making those points, I will tell him right now I would sign it, and I believe the gentleman from West Virginia would sign it. If that's the problem that he was insinuating that we in the minority would initiate the letter, the point is we would love to have the chairman write the letter and be willing to sign it.

My understanding of the procedures that have been set forth already in the Senate is when we send this bill to the Senate, and it could be there within a couple of hours, that Leaders McConnell and REID must sit down and agree that it meets their preconditions to go to conference. If it does, then the Senate goes automatically to conference. They don't have to go through all their usual procedures, and then they would send a request for conference back to us, which could be here tonight or early tomorrow morning, and we could appoint conferees tomorrow, and we could begin negotiating the bill.

I'm willing to clear my weekend schedule. I have things scheduled. I'm willing to clear my weekend schedule. I hope to be a conferee on our side of the aisle to go to conference because we really need to get the certainty the States need.

Every day States are announcing delays and cancellations of projects for this construction season which, for those of us who live in the northern part of the country, not down in Florida, means they don't get done this year. If they can't commit to a project by the end of May, except for some very minor projects, it won't get done this year.

We need those jobs. We need those projects. Instead of adding jobs and projects today, because of the temporary nature of these two extensions, States are notifying DOT that they are going to delay or cancel projects. And again, in the case of North Carolina, $1.2 billion worth of projects, 41,000 jobs lost. In my State, a couple of thousand jobs lost, and we have high unemployment. All across the country, it probably adds up to 100,000 jobs that will be foregone this construction season if we don't get a longer-term bill done by mid- to late May.

I think it's entirely possible and, as I said, on this side of the aisle we want to expedite going to conference. That's the reason we will support this bill, despite some of its faults, because the majority has shown a willingness to sit down seriously and get this done, but we can't delay. We have to move forward with all dispatch.

Let's start tomorrow. Let's work through the weekend. Let's work through the next break. We've already had 10 or 12 or 15 breaks this year. Let's work through the next break. I'll cancel my schedule for that break, too, and get this bill done for the American people for our transportation system by mid-May.

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Mr. DeFAZIO. I thank the gentleman.

I've long supported changing the law so that the funds collected for harbor maintenance are spent on harbor maintenance. They're spent all across the country on a whole range of things, except harbor maintenance. I have jetties failing in Coos Bay, Oregon; a jetty failing at the mouth of the Columbia River. I have ports that are shoaling in Port Orford or Florence that the Corps says they can't afford dredging. I don't blame the Corps because they've been shorted in the budget process. They have a $40 billion backlog of critical projects.

This will help them focus their energies on some other critical projects by giving them adequate funds to do the dredging, to rebuild the jetties, and to do the other work to maintain our locks and channels that they need to do.

This is long overdue, and I strongly support the amendment.

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Mr. DeFAZIO. I thank the gentleman.

I am going to ask the gentleman from Wisconsin a question about his amendment.

You might remember in committee that I managed to convince the majority to strip a provision in the underlying bill that would have waived all laws at the discretion of the President of the United States to do projects of national competitiveness.

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Mr. DeFAZIO. I know. You don't have that and I appreciate that; but in your amendment, from the original bill, you took this language:

The Secretary shall treat an activity carried out under title 23, United States Code, or project within a right-of-way as a class of action categorically excluded from the requirements relating to environmental assessments or environmental impact statements.

That means all Federal highway projects would be exempt from any environmental review. Don't you think that's a little over the top? That's a little more than streamlining it, and that's not just within existing rights-of-way. That is, acquire a new right-of-way, build an eight-lane road and no environmental review? Don't you think, I mean, that might be a little bit over the edge?

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Mr. DeFAZIO. No, it says ``or.'' ``Or a project within a right-of-way.'' You have at least a drafting problem here, if not an intentional problem.

This exempts any project under title 23, which means a brand new highway 8, 12, 15 lanes wide, newly acquired right-of-way, with no environmental review.

Mr. RIBBLE. Will the gentleman yield?

Mr. DeFAZIO. I will yield to the gentleman.

Mr. RIBBLE. I can say this to you, that I have full confidence in your State's environmental protection. I have full confidence in the leaders in the State of Wisconsin.

Mr. DeFAZIO. Reclaiming my time, I don't have confidence in a lot of people in a lot of States and I do think the American people deserve at least some protection. Now, I can understand the impatience with some of the bureaucracy--I share it--particularly when it comes to transit projects and other things and giving States authority, like we've done to California.

The CHAIR. The time of the gentleman has expired.

Mr. RAHALL. I yield the gentleman an additional 30 seconds.

Mr. DeFAZIO. But for the gentleman to say that we'll just let the States decide whether or not there will be any environmental review of a major new highway project is extraordinary to me--using Federal money. If they want to use the State money and they want to say there are no laws that apply and we're just going to build this Chinese method of here comes the bulldozer, get out of the way, get out of your house, here it comes, fine. States are like that. They do it with their own money, and people of that State can deal with it. But for the Federal Government to say, We wash our hands of this and you can do anything you want with Federal taxpayer dollars, constructing major new highways with no review, I think that's a little over the top.

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