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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

House passes SAFETEA-LU extension with Keystone provision


Yesterday, the House passed a second 90-day extension of the surface transportation law in less than a month.

The measure passed 293-127 with the support of 69 Democrats. However, President Obama has threatened to veto the measure, which would extend the SAFETEA-LU law through the end of September, because it contains a mandate to construct the controversial Keystone oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The vote follows a 90-day extension measure that Congress passed and Obama signed in late March, which extended the law to July 1. Although the measure passed yesterday falls short of House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) desire to pass a long-term surface transportation bill, the action aims to kick-start a highway bill discussion with the Senate, as well as keep the pipeline discussion rolling during a presidential election year, according to key House members.

“This bill contains no tax increases, earmarks or new federal government programs … but this legislation will help move the process forward in working to resolve differences with the Senate,” Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said in a prepared statement. Mica chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The legislation will allow programs to continue through the fiscal year and provide predictability during the summer construction season, said Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, in a prepared statement.

“The environmental streamlining provisions would also eliminate duplication by providing a single system to review decisions,” he said. “It reduces bureaucratic delay by requiring concurrent, instead of consecutive, project reviews and setting deadlines for the completion of environmental reviews. These changes will cut the delivery process in half and save taxpayers a great deal of money.”

The House vote is encouraging, as long as House members follow through and immediately appoint conferees so that Congress can complete its work and get a bill to the president’s desk, said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has committed to appoint Senate conferees as soon as Senate rules allow, she said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 4/19/2012