U.S. Senator John Hoeven today joined state and local leaders from Mercer County and the Washburn community for area economic development roundtables to outline new transportation legislation he pushed in the U.S. Senate to help address infrastructure needs in North Dakota. The senator also reviewed new energy development legislation he has introduced that will sustain and create hundreds of thousands of jobs, grow the economy in coal country, hold down the cost of energy for consumers and provide strong environmental stewardship for the public. Hoeven's comprehensive approach to energy will help get the economy going and, combined with better fiscal management, will help reduce the deficit
The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) bill passed by Congress last month will provide a record $1 billion in infrastructure funding to address highway construction needs statewide, flood recovery efforts and infrastructure projects in North Dakota over three years when combined with the $317 million in Emergency Road Funding Congress passed in December. The new highway bill also expedites the environmental review process for some highway projects to cut in half the time the state needs for approval to move forward with pressing infrastructure projects. Hoeven was a member of the joint Senate-House conference committee responsible for crafting a package that passed both the House and Senate by large, bipartisan majorities, and was the first highway bill Congress has passed since 2005.
As part of his work to build a comprehensive energy policy for the nation, Hoeven is also sponsoring the Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act of 2012, bipartisan legislation that will ensure the safe and efficient recycling of coal ash into a valuable construction material for roads, buildings and other infrastructure projects, while saving and creating jobs and reducing the cost of electricity for consumers. Senator Hoeven, with the support of Senators Kent Conrad and Max Baucus, introduced the legislation.
Hoeven also outlined for the leaders his Domestic Energy and Jobs Act (DEJA), a comprehensive package of energy legislation that will not only reduce the high energy costs faced by hard-working families and small businesses, but also spur badly-needed economic growth and job creation across the U.S. economy.
A New Highway Transportation Bill for North Dakota and the Nation
The final Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) bill provides
funding for North Dakota in the amount of $240.5 million in Fiscal Year 2012, $240.5 million in Fiscal Year 2013 and $242.5 million in Fiscal Year 2014 under the federal highway program. The state will also receive an additional $41.3 million over three years for public transit programs. Over three years, this legislation provides a total of $764 million to North Dakota for infrastructure.
Combined with $317 million in Emergency Road Funding Congress passed in December, North Dakota will receive a record $1.08 billion over three years to address highway construction needs statewide, flood recovery efforts and infrastructure projects in Western North Dakota.
The measure also expedites the environmental review process for some highway projects to improve the state's ability to move forward with needed infrastructure by using categorical exclusions -- projects that have been determined by the federal DOT to have no significant impacts, and therefore don't require an environmental impact statement. The legislation also streamlines the number of highway programs from about 90 to 30 to create greater efficiencies and reduce administrative costs, and gives states more flexibility to allocate funding where most needed.
The goal of streamlining programs and categorical exclusions in the bill is to cut by half the time it will take to approve highway projects. Short-term extensions made it difficult for states like North Dakota to plan for large, long-term infrastructure projects. With North Dakota's growth from energy development and impacts from flooding, the state needs to build more infrastructure. Some of those projects have been delayed by the long federal permitting process as well as by short-term extensions of the law that didn't allow time to plan for long-term projects. The former highway transportation bill had been extended 10 times, making long-term planning difficult for states like North Dakota.
Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act
The Hoeven bill takes a states-first approach by setting up a state permitting program for coal ash under a section of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. It would ensure coal ash storage sites have requirements for timely and effective groundwater monitoring, protective lining, and properly engineered structures needed to protect communities and the environment. States that prefer could grant oversight to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Coal ash is a byproduct of coal-based electricity generation that has been safely recycled for buildings, roads, bridges and other infrastructure for years. Each year, the Coal Creek power plant turns about 600,000 tons of coal residuals and fly ash into building products, as opposed to dumping it in a landfill. This recycling produces about $16 million a year in revenue for the plant.
In 2010, however, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed changing the regulation of coal ash, jeopardizing jobs and threatening to destroy the coal ash recycling industry. Coal ash is currently regulated as a nonhazardous waste; however, the EPA would like to designate it as hazardous waste. Numerous studies done by various federal agencies have found that coal residuals are not toxic. Despite these findings, the EPA's proposal, if implemented, would increase electricity costs by up to almost $50 billion annually and eliminate 300,000 American jobs according to industry analysts.
The Washburn roundtable was held at the Fort Mandan Visitors Center, which was built using materials made from recycled coal combustion products. Concrete, ceiling tiles, sidewalks and even the carpet backing used throughout the center contains coal ash.
"North Dakota serves as a good example of how states can properly manage the disposal of coal residuals with good environmental stewardship and at the same time create and sustain thousands of jobs," Hoeven said. "At the same time, recycling coal ash lowers the cost of electricity for hardworking families and businesses and benefits our economy."
Domestic Energy and Jobs Act
Hoeven also outlined for the leaders his Domestic Energy and Jobs Act (DEJA), a wide-ranging package of 13 diverse energy bills, addressing both traditional and renewable development, that is designed to streamline and simplify regulations, boost domestic energy supplies, build American energy infrastructure and safeguard America's supply of critical minerals used in modern high-tech manufactured products such as cell phones and computers. Importantly, the bill also prohibits the Secretary of the Interior from approving any regulation that would adversely impact employment in coal mines in the United States.
"Like North Dakota, our nation is blessed with an abundance of energy resources and the entrepreneurial talent to develop them for the benefit of our entire country," Hoeven said. "The Domestic Energy and Jobs Act will take the same kind of comprehensive, step-by-step approach we've used in North Dakota to develop our country's vast energy resources in order to create jobs, lift up our economy and make our nation safer and more secure by boosting domestic energy security."