June 28, 2008
Smart growth and climate examined by Congress
After months of focusing mostly on fuel-efficiency standards and renewable energy subsidies, Congress held it's first substantive hearing on June 18th on the role that smart growth, walkable neighborhoods and transit must play in curbing climate change and oil dependence. Smart Growth America's David Goldberg joined four other panelists--Steve Winkelman from the Center for Clean Air Policy, Steve Hewitt from Greensburg, KS, Greg Cohen from the American Highway Users Alliance, and Dr. Sultan Al Jaber from Abu Dhabi in testifying to the House Select Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence in a hearing entitled "Planning Communities for a Changing Climate-Smart Growth, Public Demand and Private Opportunity."
Goldberg testified on polling data and demographic trends that have lead to a high demand among the public for smart growth and the need for the federal government to act by including funding for smart growth and transportation alternatives in climate legislation, providing greater transportation options in the next federal transportation bill, and reforming the tax code to incent better development patterns. Read more about the hearing on the SGA blog.
Take Action: Ask your Representative to provide funding for transportation alternatives in any climate legislation.
Compromise Housing Package Stalls in Senate Until After July Fourth Recess
Over the past week, the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008 (HR 3221) has been moving forward in the Senate. The compromise housing package is very similar to the measure approved by the House Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on May 20. Originally, Senate leaders were hoping to complete work on the bill before the July Fourth Recess, but a deadlock over the inclusion of an amendment to extend tax breaks for renewable energy production has delayed completion of the measure. Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) is pushing to offer the amendment, which has been resisted by Democratic leaders. In April, the Senate voted 88-8 to include the energy tax provision in an earlier version of the legislation, but the provision was dropped from the latest version in the House because it was not offset. Senate leaders are reluctant to include it again, as it is clear that it would not be approved by the House.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said that only housing-related amendments will be accepted and in order to move through procedural hoops required to get around the energy tax amendment, the bill will not be completed until after next week's recess. The underlying housing package is expected to pass the Senate easily, but to undergo changes in the House. The bill includes $4 billion in community development block grants for the purchase and rehabilitation of foreclosed homes, which is strongly opposed by the White House. House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) has said that he would consider dropping this provision, as the House is moving $15 billion in grant monies in a separate bill. It is also likely that the House will include additional offsets for the $14.5 billion housing tax package. The bill is not likely to be sent to the President before mid-July.
House Passes Transit Funding Bill
The House voted, 322-98,to pass the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act of 2008 (HR 6052) that would provide transit agencies with grants to expand services and subsidize fares. This bill would authorize $750 million annually for 2008 and 2009 for operating expenses for mass transit systems in urbanized areas of 200,000 people or more and allot another $100 million annually for non-urban systems. It also expands a transit subsidy program for federal employees, among other provisions. The White House yesterday said it opposed this bill but did not threaten a veto should it reach the president's desk.
House Appropriations Subcommittee Approves FY2009 Transportation Spending Bill
On June 20, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development marked up its fiscal 2009 spending bill. The bill provides a total of $108.3 billion for transportation and housing programs, including $55 billion in discretionary spending. That is $4.4 billion more than Bush's request and $6.2 billion more than current funding. Of that funding, $69.8 billion would go to the Department of Transportation, which is $2.7 billion more than the administration's request. Amtrak would get $1.5 billion, which is close to double the $800 million request.
Breakdown of Spending:
The House Appropriations Committee was expected to markup the Transportation-HUD spending bill this Thursday, but it has been postponed until the first week back after the July Fourth recess. On July 10, the Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to markup their draft the fiscal 2009 spending bill for the Department of Transportation.
As congress prepares to reauthorize federal surface transportation programs next year, there are a number of committees examining the transportation systems.
This week the House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit met to discuss "Connecting Communities: The Role of the Surface Transportation Network in Moving People and Freight". Chairman Oberstar (D-Min.) called for a "renewed vision and strategy for addressing the nation's surface transportation needs. This new vision cannot be just focused on addressing congestion. Rather, it must address access of passengers and freight across the entire network."
Over in the Senate, the Environment and Public Works committee held a hearing, titled "Future Federal Role for Surface Transportation," Chairman Boxer (D- Cali) remarked on the need to reexamine the role of the federal government in the nation's infrastructure, not just to fund it but to guide policy and ensure safety and global competitiveness.
Also this week, the Senate Commerce Committee also held a hearing to discuss the link between transportation and climate change. Among the witnesses at the hearing was Deputy Secretary of Transportation Thomas Barrett who advocated opening more domestic supply, particularly in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to deal with rising fuel prices. Later in the hearing Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) blasted the Department of Transportation for not having a specific time frame for lowering emissions, to expand high-speed rail capacity, and a 2030 goal for new fuel emissions standards that he said China will achieve by next year.
Keep track of SGA's current advocacy work and get valuable resources to bolster your own efforts on our action page.