Last Friday the President signed the bipartisan, bicameral conference report to H.R. 4348, which will fund federal highway, transit, and highway safety programs through the end of Fiscal Year 2014. This legislation will allow states to plan and undertake major transportation improvements. While the previous surface transportation law contained over 6,300 earmarks, this is the first surface transportation bill in decades that does not contain any earmarks.
"As a conferee to the highway bill, after ten short-term extensions I'm pleased to reach this agreement to ensure transportation construction workers remain on the job and are given the certainty they deserve," said U.S. Representative Chip Cravaack (MN-8).
"The passage of the transportation bill was a critical job creation measure that was long overdue and much needed. We appreciate the efforts of Congressman Cravaack and the rest of the delegation who worked in a bipartisan manner to get this done. Our members have had a rough few years, and this bill is a big step in the direction of a better future for construction jobs," said Jason George, Legislative and Political Director to International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49.
Importantly, Rep. Cravaack secured several provisions that will preserve, protect, and produce more jobs for Eighth District residents and Minnesotans at-large.
Lowering Trucking Costs
Auxiliary power units (APUs) are anti-idling devices that allow trucks with sleepers to shut off main engines and still have power delivered to the cab. This allows the driver to run heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer while he or she is sleeping. APUs can also power various electronics, including radios, mobile phones, and computers, while the main engine is turned off. This permits the driver to save money and truck emissions.
A typical "over the road" tractor will idle approximately 2,400 hours a year. It is estimated that that idling consumes 5% of all fuel in the U.S., or 1.2 billion gallons, which is all wasted.
At an estimated price of diesel fuel of $3.90 per gallon, that means the average truck will lose about $7,500 annually from idling.
In addition, the 2,400 hours of annual idling will emit about 12.5 tons of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the air.
Current law allows a 400 lb. exemption for a truck which has anti-idling technology installed. However, 400 lbs. is insufficient -- modern APUs can weigh more than 500 pounds. Importantly, the Cravaack amendment raises the APU limit to 550 pounds, and do not forget APUs are manufactured right here at home in Minnesota.
Unfortunately, Rep. Cravaack's bipartisan truck weights agreement negotiated with House Democrats was stripped from the conference report in the Senate. This new policy would have allowed heavier Minnesota trucks to travel from north of Duluth all the way to Hinckley without leaving the interstate, rather than travel through downtown Duluth. The Cravaack amendment would have improved both public safety and efficiency.
Putting The American Steel Industry & Its Workers First
Currently, the "segmentation' loophole is a tactic used to avoid the "Buy America' preference required for construction of federal highway and bridge projects. This loophole allows the importation of cheap and inferior Chinese and Brazilian steel for federal transportation construction projects. Overall, this hurts U.S. workers and iron ore producers, since many countries give massive subsidies to their steel makers.
Thankfully, the Cravaack amendment closes this loophole by ensuring that highway and bridge projects receiving federal aid cannot be "segmented' to evade "Buy America' preferences. This will create U.S. jobs, secure U.S. steel production, and ensure that more American steel is used in federal transportation construction projects.
"The American steel industry thanks Congressman Cravaack for his leadership on the "Buy America' amendment to H.R. 4348, which directly supports steel jobs," said Thomas J. Gibson, President and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI). "This amendment will end the practice of "segmentation' of U.S. taxpayer financed projects, which was most notoriously used on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge to effectively export thousands of high-value jobs overseas. Congressman Cravaack's amendment ensures future roads and bridges will be made with top-quality American steel and by skilled American workers," he added.
Prohibiting The Federal Driving Tax
The proposed distance-based fee system, commonly referred to as Vehicle Miles Traveled, or "VMT" program, would tax drivers based on the distance traveled. Under the VMT tax, every automobile on the road would need to be fitted with a device that both records miles driven and transmits the information to a government database. This complicated system would cost millions of dollars, impose a tax on every driver on the road, and raise privacy concerns.
"I'm already paying over $3.50 for a gallon of gas. The last thing that would help me is a little black box taxing me for every mile I drive," said Al Cekalla, an Eighth District resident who commutes 112 miles roundtrip from Sturgeon Lake to Mora each day.
Importantly, Rep. Cravaack blocked funding for the development of a VMT system under House appropriations. He further successfully eliminated the Senate Democrat's VMT provision from the transportation reauthorization conference report in order to protect drivers from the job-killing administrative overreach the VMT imposes.
Rep. Cravaack serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee -- where he is Vice Chair of the Aviation Subcommittee -- the Homeland Security Committee, and the Science, Space and Technology Committee. The 8th Congressional District covers 18 counties in Northeast Minnesota.