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Mr. NADLER. Madam Speaker, I rise in support of the transportation reauthorization conference report with mixed feelings. The conference report provides $105 billion over the next 27 months for highway and transit programs and will put about 2 million people to work at a time when we desperately need jobs. These funding levels, although far from adequate, are a great improvement from the original House bill and will allow transportation agencies to plan and construct projects important to the economy. The conference report also prevents student loan interest rates from doubling, which is critical to more than 7 million students.
The transit funding formulas are focused on regions with the highest need and will provide essential resources for the MTA to maintain a state of good repair and to make capacity improvements to New York City's subway system. It is unfortunate, however, that the ability of transit agencies to flex funding for operating assistance has been dropped from the final bill.
Also, unfortunately, the Transportation Enhancements program, which includes bicycle, pedestrian, and safe routes to schools, is reduced by several hundred million dollars. And the Projects of National Regional Significance account, which provides for essential freight projects, is substantially watered down.
Thankfully, the Keystone pipeline and coal ash provisions are out of the bill. And although the 270-day deeming provision is no longer in the bill, there are other environmental streamlining provisions of concern, such as the expansion of NEPA categorical exclusions for any project within an existing right-of-way. Massive highway projects could occur within an existing right-of-way, but would no longer be subject to NEPA environmental review requirements.
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Mr. NADLER. The final package is a combination of hard-fought victories and losses. Overall, this legislation is essential for creating jobs, preventing interest rates from increasing for millions of students, and putting us on a path toward economic recovery. Therefore, I urge my colleagues to support this conference report.
Mr. NADLER. Madam Speaker, I rise in support of the transportation reauthorization conference report, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act or ``MAP-21'' (H.R. 4348).
Madam Speaker, I was honored to be appointed as a member of the conference committee, and I was ready to negotiate in good faith to craft a bill that we could all be proud to support. Unfortunately, the process by which this conference was conducted over the last couple of weeks is a cause for concern and was tarnished by a lack of transparency and bipartisan collaboration. House Democratic conferees were shut out of the final negotiations. Our committee staff was not even allowed in the room. The bill text wasn't made available until 4 a.m. yesterday morning, so we have had a very limited amount of time to review the details of this legislation. Yesterday morning, I declined to sign the conference report simply because I could not endorse a product without an adequate understanding of all of its contents, and of the full impact to New York. Our Senate counterparts appear to have struck a compromise including some important victories, as well as concessions of concern. The final package will provide at least $105 billion over the next two years for highway and transit programs, putting thousands of people to work at a time when we desperately need jobs. These funding levels are an improvement from the original House bill, and will allow transportation agencies to plan and construct projects important to the economy. The conference report also prevents student loan interest rates from doubling, which is critical for over 7 million students. As such, I will vote for this conference report, but with a number of reservations.
The highway program appears to retain the funding structure from the Senate bill and essentially preserves current funding levels to the states. There were efforts to revise the formula, which could have resulted in cuts to many states, including, potentially, to New York. It should be considered a victory that all states are essentially held harmless and will benefit from this economic recovery and jobs package. The transit funding formulas are also focused on regions with the highest need, and will provide essential resources for the MTA to maintain a state of good repair and to make capacity improvements to New York City's subway system. The transit title requires a report on transit agencies' compliance with existing civil rights laws, and includes an enhanced workforce development grant program, although not as comprehensive as the Transportation Job Corps Act, which I introduced to establish a career ladder apprenticeship program. These are important and positive aspects of the conference agreement. I am extremely disappointed, however, that the Senate bill's temporary and targeted ability for transit agencies to flex funding for operating assistance has been dropped from the final agreement.
The bill retains the Projects of National and Regional Significance Account as a competitive grant program that we first established in SAFETEA-LU, but the provision is greatly watered down and is rendered largely symbolic. The authorization level is scaled back to $500 million for one year in FY13, and the funding is not guaranteed, but subject to general fund appropriations. The Transportation Appropriations bill for FY13 has already been considered in the House. It passed just yesterday, and there was no funding for this program contained in it. Perhaps we will get lucky and secure funding for it when the appropriations bill is conferenced with the Senate later this year, but the spending levels in that bill are already much too low and resources are strained. It's hard to see how any significant funding will be dedicated over the life of this bill to these projects that are essential to freight movement, economic growth, and global competitiveness. There is a requirement that DOT prepare a report on potential projects that would be funded under the program, so some work in this area will continue, but it is wholly inadequate.
The National Freight Program originally in the Senate bill is not in the conference report, but the designation of a primary freight network and development of a national freight strategic plan is retained. For too long, freight has been too low of a priority, and this must be changed. We must make the efficient movement of freight a national priority. There is no greater transportation issue in the federal interest, and I hope that the measures contained in the conference report will be a stepping stone to a greater federal emphasis on freight policy and funding--and not an end result.
The Transportation Enhancements program, which is now called Transportation Alternatives and includes bicycle, pedestrian, and safe routes to schools, is still in the conference report, but the program is weakened from current law and from the Senate bill. These projects have bipartisan support, as evidenced by the Cardin-Cochran amendment to the Senate bill, and the Petri amendment to the House bill. Despite the broad support for transportation enhancements, the conference report lowers the overall amount of funding for these projects by several hundred million, and expands the ability for states to use this funding for other purposes, including for projects already eligible under other highway programs.
The Senate should be commended for keeping the Keystone Pipeline out of the bill, as well as the provisions limiting EPA authority to regulate coal ash. These are important concessions that were undoubtedly difficult to secure. The RESTORE Act, which would dedicate 80% of the fines levied on BP to Gulf Coast oil spill restoration, is still in the bill, but it is unfortunate that the provision directing funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund did not survive.
There are problematic environmental streamlining provisions. Although the 270 day ``deeming'' provision is no longer in the bill, there are several changes to the NEPA process that will undercut environmental reviews and public participation. The bill sets accelerated, hard deadlines for environmental reviews, with penalties for failure to comply, but ignores the fact that many agencies are too understaffed and underfunded to be able to meet these deadlines. Or perhaps that's the point--to deplete these agencies of resources, and make it virtually impossible for them to effectively do their job. The bill also expands NEPA categorical exclusions, which are typically reserved for smaller-scale projects that will not have a significant impact and therefore no EIS is required. One provision allows categorical exclusions for any project within an existing operational right of way. Massive highway projects could occur within an existing right-of-way, but would no longer be subject to NEPA requirements. I find it curious that many of the Members who espouse local control pushed this provision that will severely limit the ability of communities directly impacted to have a voice in proposed projects. There is bipartisan support for environmental streamlining. I believe there are common sense things we could do to shorten project delivery time, but this conference agreement goes too far in this regard.
The conference agreement includes several important safety incentive grant programs, including those targeting distracted and impaired driving. The bill includes additional incentive grants for states that adopt mandatory alcohol ignition interlock laws for individuals convicted of a DUI. Ignition interlocks are a key feature of Leandra's Law, a New York statute named for one of my constituents, a 9 year old girl who was killed in a drunk driving incident. I am thankful that the conference report contains this important provision. The conference report also does not include any increases to truck size or weight requirements and it includes a study which could provide useful information on truck size and weight safety impacts. The bill also includes improvements to motorcoach safety, requiring seat belts and establishing roof strength and crush resistance standards. However, these standards apply only to newly-manufactured motorcoaches, and there is no mandate to retrofit existing buses.
This final package is a combination of hard fought victories and losses. There are several aspects of it that I do not support, and the process by which this conference report was developed was, at times, regrettable. But the funding levels and distributions to the states and transit agencies should be considered a victory, especially given the position of House Republicans, and the bill will put a lot of people back to a work at a time when we need it most. Because of the positive aspects of the transportation bill, and the extension of lower student loan interest rates, I will vote for the conference report.
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