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This Week in Washington - June 22nd

 

 Inside this Week:
Let's Make a Deal, Transportation Bill Nears Completion
DOT Announces Tiger 2012 Grants 
House Subcommittee Makes Deep Cuts in EPA Funding For 2013 
Army Corps of Engineers releases Port and Inland Waterways Modernization Report 
New Ports Survey Show $46 Billion in Investment over the next five years 
Farm Bill Passage Includes Small Watershed Dam Funding
 
State Legislative Update 


 LET’S MAKE A DEAL: TRANSPORTATION BILL NEARS COMPLETION  

The House and Senate are very close on a final agreement for a new surface transportation authorization bill. At press time a partial agreement has been reached on the highway policy portions of the legislation and conferees (and staff) will continue to work through the weekend in order to finish a bill before the June 30th deadline. Issues that are still being worked on include rail, hazardous materials, highway safety provisions, and a resolution on the Keystone Pipeline. The final piece of the puzzle will be the funding sources for the bill which will determine its length.  ASCE has been told that “paying for the bill” will be the focus of staff efforts over the weekend.

The partial agreement comes after House and Senate leadership stepped in earlier this week to urge a final conference report by June 30th, when the current extension expires. After meeting with Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), conference Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Vice-Chairman John Mica (R-FL) began intense negotiations. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is now optimistic that there will not be an extension and stated “there’s significant progress being made.”

The House this week also voted on a couple of non-binding motions to instruct conferees. The first motion from Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) urged conferees to file a conference report by today. The motion passed with overwhelming bipartisan support 386-44. The other motion came from Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), a civil engineer and ASCE member, which insisted that the EPA defer regulation of coal ash to states. The McKinley motion passed 260-138.

Meanwhile, ASCE members continue to urge conferees in their home state to pass a bill; Mike Guter, Robert Victor, and Kam Movassaghi all wrote Letters to the Editor featured in their local publications. ASCE will notify all Key Contacts next week if a final agreement is reached, and we ask that you continue to contact your legislators and urge them to pass a surface transportation bill before the current extension expires on June 30th. 

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 TRANSPORTATION APPROPRIATIONS HEADING TO HOUSE FLOOR 

The House Appropriations Committee this week marked up the Transportation and Housing & Urban Development appropriations bill, which passed by voice vote. The bill’s overall total of $51.6 billion in discretionary spending would be $3.9 billion less than fiscal 2012 and $1.9 billion less than the president’s request. Overall, the House was supportive of most transportation programs, maintaining investment for highways and making minor increases for the FAA and Amtrak. However, one of the bigger cuts in the House bill is the zeroing out the discretionary TIGER program, which provides grants for infrastructure projects that have national or regional significance.

The full spending breakdown:

  • Highways – Provides $39.1 billion from the Highway Trust Fund to be spent, the same level as last year and $2.7 billion below the President’s request.
  • Air – The FAA would receive $12.6 billion, $91 million above last year’s level. The bill also provides nearly $1 billion for NextGen and rejects the Administration’s proposal for new aviation fees.
  • Rail – The Federal Railroad Administration is funded with $2 billion, which is $384 million above last year’s level and $716 million below the President’s request. This funding includes $1.8 billion for Amtrak, to be primarily used for capital improvements.
  • Transit – The Federal Transit Administration would receive $2 billion, which is $181 million below last year’s level and $546 million below the President’s request. The bill would also provide $1.8 billion for the “New Starts” program.
  • Maritime – The bill includes $338 million for the Maritime Administration, a decline of $12 million from last year and $7 million below the President’s request.
  • Safety – The bill includes $776 million for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a decrease of $23.8 million from last year; $551 million for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a decrease of $2.6 million from last year; and $177 million for the Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Administration, an increase of $4 million from last year.

The bill is expected to will likely be considered on the House floor next week.

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DOT ANNOUNCES TIGER 2012 GRANTS 

Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, announced that 47 transportation projects in 34 states and the District of Columbia will receive a total of almost $500 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) 2012 program.

The TIGER program is a highly competitive program that is able to fund innovative projects of regional of national significance. These federal funds are being leveraged with money from private sector partners, states, local governments, metropolitan planning organizations and transit agencies.

Applications for this most recent round of grants totaled $10.2 billion, far exceeding the $500 million set aside for the program. In all, the Department received 703 applications from all 50 states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.

The grants will fund a wide range of innovative transportation projects in urban and rural areas across the country. To see a full list of project check out the TIGER 2012 site. 

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 HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE MAKES DEEP CUTS IN EPA FUNDING FOR 2013 

The Interior and Environment Appropriations subcommittee approved a bill this week that would provide $28 billion for the Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service and related agencies for Fiscal Year 2013.  This is $1.2 billion less than the level enacted for the agencies in FY 2012.

The bill would inhibit the EPA’s ability to enact new environmental rules by cutting the agency’s budget to $7 billion--17 percent below FY 2012.  The appropriations bill would reduce the agency’s budget to levels below the FY 1998 appropriation not counting inflation.

The bill would significantly cut the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds. Appropriating $689 million for the Clean Water Act State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF), down from $1.4 billion in FY12, and $829 million for the Safe Drinking Water Act SRF, down from $917 million in FY12. 

In March, ASCE recommended $2 billion and $1.5 billion, respectively.

The bill would provide $967 million for the U.S. Geological Survey, a $101 million cut below last year’s level. The majority of the reductions are in climate change, ecosystems, and administrative accounts, while programs dealing with energy and minerals, mapping, and water are prioritized.  ASCE had recommended an appropriation of $1.1 billion for the USGS.

The overall funding levels for FY 2013 are based on the House Budget Resolution, not the higher but still reduced levels for FY 2013 agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011, passed in August of 2011.

The Interior Department would be funded at $10.3 billion, which is $57 million more than last year’s level.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which pays for public lands acquisitions, would be funded at $66 million, which represents an 80 percent reduction, (the lowest funding level since its creation in 1965) while climate change programs would be trimmed by $101 million, a 29 percent cut.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the EPA budget cuts are necessitated by the agency’s “unprecedented effort to drive certain industries to extinction with . . .  burdensome regulations and arbitrary enforcement measures.”

Bill details are at here

ASCE’s recommendations for EPA and USGS can be found here

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 ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS RELEASES PORT AND INLAND WATERWAYS MODERNIZATION REPORT 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) submitted to Congress Wednesday the “U.S. Port and Inland Waterways Modernization: Preparing for Post-Panamax Vessels” report, an examination of options for future modernization of U.S. ports and inland waterways.  The full report can be seen here.

The USACE Institute for Water Resources (IWR) was responsible for the development of the final report on how Congress should address the critical need for additional port and inland waterways modernization to accommodate post-Panamax vessels.

The report identifies capacity maintenance and expansion issues associated with the deployment of post-Panamax vessels to trade routes serving U.S. ports.  This identification was accomplished through an evaluation of the future demand for capacity in terms of freight forecasts and vessel size expectations, and an evaluation of the current capacity of the nation’s inland waterways and coastal ports.   

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NEW PORTS SURVEY SHOW $46 BILLION IN INVESTMENT OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS 

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) released results of a new survey this week indicating that U.S. seaport agencies and their private-sector partners plan to invest a combined $46 billion over the next five years in wide-ranging capital improvements to their marine operations and other port properties. While these investments are underway in port facilities across the country, the access to these facilities and resulting bottlenecks is still a major issue that needs to be addressed. The study was based on a 2012 infrastructure investment survey of AAPA members. AAPA discussed the results at a panel discussion this week in Washington, DC on the importance of a national freight infrastructure strategy in advance of the Panama Canal expansion. 

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 FARM BILL PASSAGE INCLUDES SMALL WATERSHED DAM FUNDING 

The Senate passed 64 – 35 the 2012 Farm Bill yesterday. The legislation does include language to maintain the small watershed rehabilitation program at the same levels as the 2008 Farm Bill.

ASCE sent a letter to the Senate Agriculture Committee in May stressing the importance of the small watershed rehabilitation program and thanking the Committee for maintaining the program.

Our nation’s small watershed dam projects have provided an estimated $1.5 billion in annual benefits in reduced flooding and erosion damages, recreation, water supplies, and wildlife habitats. However, the failure to make the necessary upgrades, repairs and modifications for these aging dams will increase the likelihood of dam failures. The  2012 Farm Bill would provide an approach to address public health and safety needs before a tragic dam failure occurs. With these funds the Natural Resources Conservation Service can perform a multitude of dam assessments and rehabilitation projects between FY 2012 - 2017, which will increase public safety in those communities below aging dams and provide various economic benefits.

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STATE LEGISLATIVE UPDATE  

California 
Governor Brown to scrap environmental exception for bullet train 
After encountering criticism from environmental groups, Governor Jerry Brown signaled Wednesday that he plans to withdraw his controversial proposal to protect the California bullet train project from injunctions sought by environmental lawsuits.  Brown's staff told key environmental groups that he would no longer include modifications to the California Environmental Quality Act in a package of legislation this month asking for $6 billion to start construction of the high-speed rail project.  A spokesman for the governor declined to comment. State senators and their staffers confirmed the governor's move.
LA Times 6/21

Delaware
DelDOT seeks go ahead for new toll road 
After more than 60 years of studies, debates and false-starts, DelDOT asked lawmakers today to authorize $471 million in spending authority for a toll road to replace U.S. 301 in southern New Castle County.  Highway officials could seek bids before the middle of next year, with construction starting in mid- to late 2013. Right-of-way purchases already are under way, supported by an earlier $125 million bond sale.  Transportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt told Bond Bill Committee members this afternoon that updated studies show that lower bond interest rates and lower construction costs have offset recession-related declines in traffic forecasts.
News-Journal 6/20

Florida
Transportation secretary:  Tolls are road to Florida’s future
Ananth Prasad knows Jacksonville well from his time working as an engineer in the Florida Department of Transportation's Lake City office.  So Prasad, now the state's secretary of transportation, expected mixed feelings when the state announced last week it would widen three sections of Interstate 295 and turn those new lanes into tolled express lanes.  Toll lanes will be installed from the Buckman Bridge to Interstate 95, from the Dames Point Bridge to Interstate 95 and from Butler Boulevard to Florida 9B at a cost of about $200 million.  These will be the first toll lanes in Jacksonville since 1989 when Duval County voters approved a sales tax increase to do away with tolls. But more could be coming soon.
Jacksonville.com 6/19 

Georgia
Y
earwood, Ginn differ on transportation tax in Senate race
More Republican candidates are coming out against a proposed transportation sales tax on the July 31 ballot.  Barrow County Commission Chairman Danny Yearwood, a Republican who’s running against state Senator Frank Ginn, R-Danielsville, said at a Jackson County Chamber of Commerce forum Tuesday night that he opposes the 1 percent tax.  Ginn, who was not in the Senate in 2010 when legislators put the tax on the ballot but served as a non-voting member on the roundtable, defended T-SPLOST. The projects it would fund are important for economic development, he said.
Athens Banner-Herald 6/20

Indiana
Road work funds low on fuel 
Local road funding is shaping up to be a key battleground in the next legislative session.  City, county and town officials are struggling with receipts from the state gas tax that are less than what they received in 2000, while the cost of maintaining roads and bridges has only gone up.  State legislators and administrators have shied away from the problem in recent years while pointing to tight state budgets and cuts to major programs.  But now that Indiana has built up a budget surplus – and is preparing to send tax dollars back to Hoosiers – the discussion is likely to change.
Journal-Gazette 6/17

Montana 
Opinion
Boards near water rights relationship: Draft available for public review, comment
I am a legislative member of the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission, which negotiates agreements with Indian tribes and federal agencies claiming federal reserved water rights in Montana.  Federal reserved rights differ from state water rights in two important ways. Their priority date is the date the Indian reservation or federal enclave (such as a national park) was created, rather than the date on which water was first put to beneficial use. And they are not measured by beneficial use but by the amount of water necessary to fulfill the purpose of the reservation or enclave.  The Montana Legislature chose to have Montana negotiate (rather than litigate) quantifications of these rights when it created the Compact Commission in 1979. The commission consists of nine members, four appointed by the governor, four legislative members (one from each party in both the House and Senate), and one appointed by the attorney general.
Missoulian 6/20

New Jersey
Senate Dems agree to raise transportation borrowing limit to help Governor Christie close revenue gap 
Senate Democrats on the budget committee crossed party lines today to raise the borrowing limit for transportation projects, a move that would help Governor Chris Christie close a revenue gap by further straining a fund that can’t cover its yearly debt payments.  The bill, sponsored by Senators James Holzapfel and Robert Singer (both R-Ocean), would allow the state to bond $260 million more than Christie planned for the Transportation Trust Fund, which pays for new road infrastructure and maintenance.  The bill (S2020), which the administration helped craft, was approved by the budget committee unanimously within minutes.  Christie needs to raise the borrowing cap so he can keep transportation funding whole. State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff announced last month that the administration plans to take $260 million set aside in cash for the trust fund next year to plug a growing budget hole of up to $1.4 billion through June 2013, saying it’s a necessary one-year move.
NJ.com 6/18

North Carolina
Senate sets hearing on DOT letters 
Governor Bev Perdue’s office, under fire over the disclosure that top aides altered a state transportation official’s position on funding for toll road projects without his knowledge, said Tuesday that her staffers had only “suggested some edits” to paperwork while seeking to ensure the projects stayed on track.  Perdue, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election, did not comment on the issue. Her press secretary issued a statement.  Republicans called what happened something much different: a possible crime that merits serious review.  The Senate Rules Committee chairman launched an inquiry, using the word “fraudulent” to describe the letters sent to lawmakers last week that appeared to reverse the state Department of Transportation’s position on whether the legislature should provide $63 million next year for two toll roads.
Charlotte Observer 6/20

Virginia 
Transit funding: State officials plans to bypass Northern Virginia commission
Virginia officials plan to send state transportation funds directly to local governments rather than through the three-­decade-old Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, a decision regional leaders called a political power play by the administration of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R).  State officials denied the claim and said the decision, which is scheduled to be endorsed by the statewide Commonwealth Transportation Board on Wednesday in Richmond, is simply a matter of providing clarity and transparency to commonwealth funding. But local leaders say it will do just the opposite.
Washington Post 6/19

Governor McDonnell Announces $11.4 Billion in Transportation Improvements 
Governor Bob McDonnell announced today that the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) approved $11.4 billion in allocations for transportation improvement projects over the next six years beginning July 1. The Six-Year Improvement Program distributes funding for highway, road and bridge projects as well as rail, transit, bicycle, pedestrian and other transportation improvements across the state.  “The six-year program advances projects that will relieve congestion in the most heavily traveled areas of the state and improve numerous roads and bridges throughout Virginia,” said Governor McDonnell. “The program also supports a better multi-modal system, moving more people with fewer cars.”  The six-year program is $800 million more than last year’s program, with most of the increase coming from public- and private-sector contributions for the I-95 Express Lanes construction, scheduled to begin this year in Northern Virginia.
VDOT News Release 6/20

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