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Transit Industry and State DOTs Agree: Senate Climate Bill Needs ‘Rewrite’

9:13 AM PDT on May 20, 2010

The transit industry's leading D.C. lobbying outlet joined the
umbrella group for state DOTs and two major construction groups yesterday to
protest the Senate climate bill's failure to set aside all of the
revenue from its proposed new fuel fees for infrastructure projects --
specifically, to the cash-strapped highway trust fund that is generally
split, 80-20, between roads and transit.

030210_Senate_climate_bill_full_600.jpgSens.
Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), center, and John Kerry (D-MA), right, with
onetime climate bill cosponsor Lindsey Graham (R-SC) at left. (Photo: CSM)

American
Public Transportation Association (APTA) chief William
Millar told reporters that while the local transit agencies he
represents are "very supportive
of legislation to address climate change and energy issues," the Senate
bill's diversion of all but about
$6 billion
of its fuel revenues for purposes unrelated to
transportation is a matter of serious concern.

"This is one of those cases where we really can't even talk about
the merits of any
portion of the bill because the fundamental position is flawed," Millar
said.

Referring to the legislation's promise of funding for the clean
transport and land-use grants known as "CLEAN
TEA"
and TIGER,
he added, "Many of those are very good ideas … but you can't make those
ideas work if there's no significant funding to make them work, and
this bill would aggravate the funding situation for public transit."

John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of
State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), was more direct in
outlining where state DOTs want to see the Senate climate bill's fuel
revenues directed. "Channel[ing] every dollar through the highway trust
fund," he said, would help the industry break through a congressional
stalemate
and win passage of a new six-year federal transport bill.

Stephen Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors, and
Pete Ruane, president of the American Road and Transportation Builders
Association, echoed Horsley's interpretation of the new fuel fees in the
climate bill -- which are imposed on oil companies and refiners but are
likely to be passed along through higher gas prices -- as a de
facto "user fee"
on drivers.

The climate proposal, Ruane said, does "nothing more than finance a
lot of goals, which are enviable in part, on the backs of
transportation users."

It remains to be seen whether the transportation industry's
combative stance against the partial diversion of the bill's
transportation revenue, billed as a "call for a rewrite" of the climate
legislation, will help force senators into restructuring the measure.
Ruane said he "like[s] the odds" facing the four groups.

But a spokesman for Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) said that APTA, AASHTO,
and 25 other industry groups mis-estimated the amount of revenue set
aside for transportation in a letter outlining their concerns that was
sent today to Kerry and his chief climate bill co-sponsor, Sen. Joseph
Lieberman (I-CT).

“Let’s get the facts
straight," Kerry spokesman Whitney Smith said via email. "This bill
invests more than $6 billion annually in transportation
infrastructure, which is more than any other comprehensive energy and
climate
bill and more than twice what's claimed in this letter. In effect, the
letter
advocates a policy that would accelerate emissions from the
transportation
sector and increase our dependence on foreign oil. That's not good for
anyone,
especially consumers."

One congressional source was befuddled by APTA's move to "bit[e]
the hand that feeds them" by criticizing a climate bill that stands to
give broad, lasting benefits to rail and bus systems.

“Perhaps these groups are confused about the purpose of the climate
bill: It’s to reduce emissions, not increase them," the source told
Streetsblog Capitol Hill. "The Kerry-Lieberman bill invests more money
in transportation than any of the previous climate bills. Instead of
working constructively to increase that investment, they are biting the
hand that feeds them. Why is APTA advocating for a strategy that will
decrease the amount of climate money going to transit? Transit makes out
like a bandit in the Kerry-Lieberman bill.”

APTA's alignment with AASHTO and the construction industry groups
marks a split of sorts from the Transportation for America (T4A) infrastructure reform coalition,
which has
praised
the upper-chamber climate bill's focus on investing in
clean transport projects while taking no official position on the
legislation as a whole.

The Senate climate plan provides "a new source of revenue" for
transportation, T4A spokesman David Goldberg said in an interview. "This
is not a gas tax, and it's not conceived of as a supplement to the
highway trust fund, for whatever the business-as-usual, run-of-the-mill
highway trust fund projects are."

How big would that new source of transportation revenue be,
relative to the total amount raised by the Senate climate bill's new
fuel fees? APTA and AASHTO claim in their letter that more than
three-quarters of total fuel fees would be used for non-infrastructure
purposes:

In 2013, fees from on-road fuel consumption [under theclimate proposal] would generate at least $19.5 billion.  Instead ofreturning revenue from these fees to improving the transportationsystem, the bill diverts at least 77 percent of the funds away fromtransportation infrastructure investment. As carbon prices increase, the bill diverts as much as 91 percent of fuel revenues.  Of particularconcern, the bill limits new investment in the Highway Trust Fund to$2.5 billion per year, far below the amount the bill raises from systemusers. 

As Kerry's office pointed out, however, the industry groups' math
appears to lowball the amount of funding set aside for transportation.
The 77 percent estimate would yield an annual pot of less than $4
billion, while Kerry and Lieberman have estimated that transport would
receive upwards of $6 billion during the first several years after their
legislation takes effect.

(ed. note. This post was updated to add comment from Kerry's
office.)

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