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U.S. DOT Spells Out Priorities For Conference Bill

11:50 AM PDT on May 22, 2012

Hint to lonely hearts everywhere: If you're looking for some correspondence, join the transportation conference committee. Those folks are getting a lot of mail these days.

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Everyone from the petrochemical industry to environmental and equity groups [PDF] to state DOT officials [PDF] are penning their missives to committee members, asking for everything from expedited project delivery to fix-it-first to automatic approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

U.S. DOT got in on the letter-writing campaign last week too, expressing the Obama administration's priorities for the bill [PDF].

The letter, signed by Secretary Ray LaHood, started off reiterating the promise to veto any bill mandating automatic approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. The administration opposes the GOP's bid for coal ash deregulation but doesn't threaten a veto over that issue. It also opposes some of the streamlining proposals made by the House, saying they "would radically change the application of environmental laws" and would undermine the National Environmental Policy Act.

The administration says it "strongly supports local decision-making and boosting the capacity of agencies that perform statewide, metropolitan, and rural transportation planning" -- staying agnostic in the battle between state and city power. It supports the Senate's Buy America language, which the House has instructed its conferees to accept. New Starts, high-speed rail, and TIGER all get a shout-out too.

U.S. DOT supports transit operations funding in times of high unemployment and in the wake of a disaster, and it reminds conferees that the administration's 2013 budget included $3.2 billion for for transit maintenance. It mentions CMAQ only to oppose a House change to the program that never passed but does not weigh in on the changes to CMAQ in the Senate bill.

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