Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the senior Northeastern Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, listed his priorities for the Transportation Reauthorization Conference Committee, which met today, and on which he is a conferee.
The following is the text of his opening statement, as prepared:
"Thank you, Senator Boxer, and the rest of my House and Senate colleagues for successfully getting the Transportation Reauthorization bill to conference. For a long time it seemed doubtful that we would get a bill to this point. I am honored to be a part of the conference committee, and I am hopeful that we can report out a bill that all of us can be very proud to support.
"In order for that to happen, we're going to have to work in a bipartisan manner and abandon some of the poison pills that have been discussed, such as the Keystone Pipeline and environmental streamlining provisions. There is bipartisan support for some common sense streamlining measures, but the language attached to the House bill goes too far and undercuts NEPA. I obviously have concerns about the Keystone Pipeline in terms of the impact on global warming and the questionable benefit to American consumers. But that is what the normal environmental review is supposed to evaluate, and the House bill mandates approval of the project superseding the normal process. That is the Administration's objection to this provision, and one that should be a non-starter for everyone in this room.
"As much as I am concerned about some of the anti-environmental riders, I am heartened by the bipartisan progress that has been made in other parts of the bill. The Senate deserves a lot of credit for passing a bill with such broad support. It's not a perfect bill. I have concerns about some of the provisions, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. We should continue to build upon the progress made in MAP-21.
"I am glad that the Senate bill includes the Projects of National and Regional Significance (PNRS) program that we established in current law. When we wrote SAFETEA-LU, we recognized that the traditional transportation funding programs were insufficient to finance many major infrastructure projects. Because the funding formulas are distributed to each state, it is difficult to get multiple states to coordinate their budgets and to make the financial commitments necessary to build big regional projects even if they are important for economic growth. In some cases, the projects are simply too expensive to fit into a state's transportation plan that is already stretched too thin to maintain the system, let alone expand it. And in some cases, critical projects can involve many different agencies and modes of transportation, and such projects may not be easily eligible for funding under the core highway programs. The PNRS program is designed to deal with these problems.
"I am glad to see that the Senate bill retains the PNRS program, but I am concerned that the program is just an authorization subject to general fund appropriations, and that the program might not be comprehensive enough to adequately address freight congestion and goods movement around the country. Another section of the Senate bill, which creates a National Freight Program, has some good aspects, but it is a State-centric program. As I just mentioned, it was the inability of states to undertake major freight projects, which are often regional in nature that led to the creation of the PNRS program in the first place. It is important that the PNRS program operate as originally intended, and that we don't take a step backward from SAFETEA-LU. The good news is that there are several programs in the Senate bill to fund freight projects, so I hope that we can make just a few modifications so that we adequately fund regional freight projects of greatest economic benefit.
"We have bipartisan support for retaining the PNRS program in the House. I offered an amendment in the committee markup of HR 7 to add the PNRS program back into the bill. Several Republicans voted for the amendment, and we had several Republican cosponsors of the amendment we would have offered on the Floor. I hope that this is one area where we can continue to work together to fund major freight projects essential to the economy.
"On transit, it appears that we are all on the same page again in support of maintaining the dedicated stable source of funding for public transportation programs. Although there are certainly some transit program and policy issues to discuss, I am optimistic that the transit title of the bill can be conferenced quickly and without controversy.
"I have questions about some of the provisions in the Senate bill, particularly those that involve formula distributions. As the Highway Trust Fund is funded by revenue sources outside of the gas tax it makes even less sense to base distribution formulas on the percentage each state contributes in that gas tax. Essentially, every state has become a "donee" state. Frankly, had a House bill gone to the floor paid for with federal employee pension reforms, I might have offered an amendment to distribute funding based on the percentage of federal employees in each state or city. That would make just as much, if not more, sense at this point.
"I am sure that all of us have issues we would like to focus on in this bill. I am hopeful that we can resolve them all and get a bill done quickly so that we don't have to pass another extension at the end of June. I look forward to working with you all toward towards passage of the single most important jobs bill in this Congress."