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11/18/2011


Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation
House Republicans announce plans for transportation reauthorization bill



Yesterday, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) joined Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) at a press conference to announce plans for a long-term transportation reauthorization bill that would use revenue from expanded domestic oil drilling to fund transportation infrastructure projects over a five-year period.

However, the announcements did not include details, such as dollar amounts. The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works has approved a two-year bill.

H.R. 7, dubbed the “American Energy Infrastructure Jobs Act,” will be introduced in the coming weeks, with House passage anticipated by year’s end, Boehner said.

The bill is part of the House GOP’s “American Energy Initiative,” which would increase domestic energy sources by lifting a current ban on new offshore drilling areas; develop more oil drilling in shale plays; and open up more areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska to oil drilling.

H.R. 7 would “permanently remove government barriers to American energy production and use the revenues to repair and improve America’s roads and bridges — both of which support long-term job growth,” said Boehner.

Mica said he hopes to mark up a transportation bill in the coming weeks that would “significantly streamline the process for projects by cutting red tape and unnecessary federal paperwork.” The measure also would consolidate duplicative federal transportation programs; provide flexibility, authority and responsibility to state and local governments to move transportation projects forward; and increase the ability to leverage financial resources and encourage more private sector building infrastructure, he said.

However, Democrats were less than enthusiastic about the GOP plan.

“The proposal by Republican leadership would mire a very popular surface transportation bill in controversy and it would directly threaten many thousands of fishing, tourism and recreation-related jobs,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, adding that financial experts have told her the proposal would fall billions short in what’s needed to fund the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs.

After Boehner’s press conference, Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.), the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a press conference of his own that the GOP’s announcement failed to identify “real, sustainable revenues needed to address our long-term surface transportation infrastructure investment needs.”
 
“Having both served on and chaired the Natural Resource Committee for many years, I have witnessed countless efforts to expand domestic energy production. I have been through the ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’ cycles,” Rahall said. “Unfortunately, many of the proposals offered today have been around for decades, and — more importantly — will generate nowhere near the amount of revenue in the near term promised by the Republicans.”

— Julie Sneider

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