June 13, 2008
New Signers on Climate & Smart Growth Dear Colleague Letter
Seventeen House members so far have signed on to a Dear Colleague letter circulating from Representatives Ellen Tauscher (CA) and Earl Blumenauer (OR) that urges the House to include funding for transportation choices in climate change legislation. As gas prices rise and the threat from climate change grows, it's critical that our country invests in public transportation, inter-city rail, and the development changes that help people live closer to their jobs, school, and places to run errands. The Dear Colleague letter, open through the end of June for signers, calls on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to embrace using funds and incentives in climate change legislation to create more transportation choices and walkable communities. If your Representative isn't on this list, please call and urge them to sign on. So far, signers include: Representatives Inslee, Barbara Lee, Sires, Schwartz, DeGette, DeFazio, Napolitano, Olver, Delahunt, Capuano, Payne, Woolsey, Tauscher, Blumenauer, Carson, Filner, and Grijalva.
Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Holds Hearing
Last week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Highways and Transit Subcommittee held a hearing on maintaining the nation's highway and transit infrastructure with a panel of state and regional transportation officials. Recommendations from the panel included increasing funding from $43 billion in 2009 to at least $75 billion in 2015 just to restore the program's purchasing power to what it was 15 years ago, as well as greater flexibility through fewer overall programs, increased flexibility between the remaining programs and clearer, broader eligibility standards
Transportation Policy Advances in Congress
Last Friday, President Bush signed into law H.R. 1195, the SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act of 2008. The legislation includes a number of technical corrections and contains clarification for a number of policy provisions. Included in the bill is clarification on the evaluation criteria for new transit projects to ensure the inclusion of land use and economic development benefits. This correction is another move to prevent the Administration from focusing solely on their Cost Effectiveness Index when evaluating which transit projects to fund, which focuses on the price tag of the system instead of the many other benefits a transit project can bring.
The House voted to approve the reauthorization of Amtrak. The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (HR 6003) was approved 311-104. The $14.4 billion bill, which includes $4.2 billion authorization for capital grants and a $3 billion provision for operations, was passed with the addition of several amendments. The bill also provides about $2.5 billion for states to finance new or improved intercity passenger service and $1.75 billion over five years for grants to states and to Amtrak for high-speed rail corridors.
Although the bill was passed by a large enough majority to override Bush's threatened veto, there may be some trouble reconciling the House version with the version approved by the Senate. Amtrak supporters in that chamber are not in favor of privatization language and did not include it in their version.
Final Budget Resolution Adopted by Congress
Last Wednesday, the Senate voted 48-45 to adopt the budget after a short debate. On Thursday, the House voted to adopt the conference report on the final budget resolution by 214-210. The budget calls for $24.5 billion more in discretionary spending than the $991.6 billion Bush requested for the 12 annual appropriations bills. Although it is not anticipated that any of the fiscal 2009 appropriations bills will be approved until next year, both House and Senate Appropriations Committees are expected to markup each of the 12 spending bills in order to begin the appropriations process that will be completed after the beginning of the next administration.
The Interior appropriations bill, which funds the EPA, is expected to include language that again protects the EPA Smart Growth Program from funding cuts. Smart Growth America is working to increase funding for the program next year, when the appropriations bills for FY09 will likely actually move forward.
Coastal Zone Management Act Pulled from Markup in the House Natural Resources Committee
Last week, the House Natural Resources Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans Subcommittee approved a bill to reauthorize the Coastal Zone Management Act by voice vote. The bill, H.R. 5451, was introduced by Del. Madeline Bordallo (D-Guam) earlier this year and was originally considered to be a non-controversial reauthorization of the thirty-six year old act. During the subcommittee markup, a manager's amendment was added which included provisions from last year's energy bill to help states address renewable energy projects, coastal access for commercial fishers and plans for climate change.
On Wednesday, the House Natural Resources Committee was scheduled to markup the bill, but House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) pulled it from a markup after Republicans attempted to propose amendments that would expand offshore oil and gas leasing. On Tuesday night, 180 pages of amendments were filed, including one that sought to revive the "Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act," a 2006 bill on offshore oil and gas leasing. Democrats said they did not have enough time to review all the amendments, which led to the bill being pulled from the markup. Chairman Rahall said that there is hope to resolve issues soon and bring the bill back before the committee for a vote.
House Financial Services Holds Hearing on Green Building Incentives
Critics of the legislation said that when it comes to energy costs, they wanted to see gas prices addressed before green and efficient building. Panel members at the hearing included Michael Freedberg, Director of the Division of Affordable Housing Technology Research at the Department of Housing and Urban Development; Doris Koo, President and CEO of Enterprises Community Partners; Jerry Howard, President of the National Association of Homebuilders and Tom Hicks, Vice President of International Programs and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development at the U.S. Green Building Council.
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