SAVING ENERGY THROUGH PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION ACT OF 2008 -- (House of Representatives - June 26, 2008)
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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Mr. Speaker, at the outset, let me say I have a long history of supporting mass transit in the urban areas of my State, including light rail development and bus transportation systems. I've received State-wide recognition for this work.
Unfortunately, there are no light rail routes, and few successful bus routes, in rural Oregon and in most of my district. In fact, the most important public mass transit in most of rural Oregon and, indeed, across most of rural America is a bright yellow school bus, like this one, that safely transports American children to and from school each day.
No one in America is immune from the impact of record-high gas prices, but for those of us from rural areas, the impact has been particularly severe not only on farms, families and small businesses, but also on our local governments that are struggling to pay sky-high fuel prices to maintain basic services.
Before you know it, our public school doors will open, and millions of our children will return to school, many of them on that familiar yellow school bus.
Yet all across this country, school superintendents are struggling mightily to figure out exactly how they'll afford to operate those school buses and to get our children to school.
Newspapers are filling with accounts of school districts and how they're going to respond to the cost of fuel. Some districts, including one just a few miles from here in Maryland, are considering reducing bus services and forcing children to walk up to 2 miles to school. Some schools are even discussing going to 4-day school weeks in order to reduce fuel consumption.
As profound as this problem is in urban and suburban area, it is even worse for those of us from rural communities where school buses must travel long distances to pick up and drop off children.
This is what the Yakima Herald-Republic in Washington State had to say just 5 days ago: ``Some of the surrounding districts in rural areas feel the pinch from increased costs a bit more because their buses have to travel farther to transport students. The Mt. Adams School District, which has about 1,000 students, is the third-largest district in the State with an area of 1,325 square miles. The district's 10 buses still travel more than 200,000 miles in a year.''
All the way across the country in Franklin County, Virginia, the Roanoke Times reports that ``a school official advised the board of supervisors Tuesday that the division could face an extra $690,000 in added fuel costs.''
Yet, today we have before us a bill that does absolutely nothing, nothing to lower the price of gasoline or diesel and nothing to help our schools, our school districts, and to help them pay for the bus transportation costs they're incurring.
Instead, it proposes to increase subsidies for public transit systems that reduce their fares and expand taxpayer-funded travel perks for Federal employees.
What's even worse is that existing Federal law would actually prohibit the funds authorized under this bill from being used to provide assistance to struggling school districts. Let me repeat that. This law, and the law on the books, don't allow the use of these funds for our school systems.
As the school year approaches, it's time to get our priorities right and to take care of our kids first.
My motion to recommit would fix this problem by sending this bill back to committee with instructions that they revise it, to specifically provide that in an area where school bus services are being cut back because of high fuel prices, that the funds under this bill shall be used first and foremost to help restore those school bus services, and that preference shall be given to rural and suburban areas where school buses have to travel greater distances to transport our children.
If the Democratic leadership's going to refuse to even allow a vote on proposals to increase domestic energy supplies so that we can lower gas prices for all Americans, then the least we can do is try to soften the blow for our Nation's schools, our school bus system and our children.
As currently drafted, this bill does not do that. We have a chance to fix it. We have a chance to help our school districts, particularly those in rural areas.
Now, the majority will undoubtedly try to rally their Members against this motion, but I ask, given that Congress is recessing tomorrow, what's wrong with sending this bill back to committee where the staff can review the amendment over the break and the full committee can carefully consider the importance of helping local schools cope with their busing needs and report this bill back in 10 days?
Or you can reject this on some sort of procedural grounds, and leave local schools in the lurch, and literally put our school children on the shoulder of the roadways, dodging traffic on their way to and from school this fall.
When schools start closing a day a week early, when parents can't figure out how to get their children to and from school, Americans will look back on this moment and see who stood with our rural and suburban schools and with our children and who stood against them.
This is a reasonable motion to recommit. The committee clearly has the time to take this up. It is of no disservice to the committee or this process to say our first priority in this House, if we're not going to allow greater access to American fuel, is to at least take care of America's school children and their busing needs.
Every paper in your district is probably writing about this issue or will be as skyrocketing fuel costs cost them the ability to run their bus routes. You can smirk and you can laugh, but this reality is coming to us here and now.
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