By a vote of 293-127, the House approved HR 4348, a 90 day extension of U.S. federal surface transportation programs through Sept. 30, 2012. The legislation will act as a vehicle to conference with the Senate on a longer-term transportation reauthorization bill. H.R. 4348 was amended on the House floor to include the provisions for streamlining environmental regulations written for the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, the five-year transportation reauthorization bill cleared by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee earlier this year. Also included in H.R. 4348 were several good provisions not directly related to the highway and transit programs as follows:
- The AGC-supported provision allowing approval of construction of the Keystone XL pipeline
- The text of the AGC-supported Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act that would, among other things, prevent EPA from defining fly ash as a hazardous waste, thereby, limiting its beneficial use
- An AGC-supported amendment guaranteeing that the total amount available for spending from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund each fiscal year would equal Trust Fund receipts as estimated by the President's budget for that year
- The AGC-supported RESTORE Act directs much of the money from Clean Water Act fines resulting from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to be used for infrastructure investments in Gulf coast states.
The Obama Administration issued a statement prior to the vote threatening to veto H.R. 4348 based on the inclusion of the Keystone XL pipeline. While AGC has consistently and unequivocally called for a long-term transportation reauthorization bill with increased funding and significant program reforms, political realities have prevented that from happening. AGC supported the current strategy of passing H.R. 4348 as a means to conference with the Senate on S. 1813 to provide program continuity, certainty in funding levels for the next 15 months and program reforms. AGC and our stakeholder partners were very involved in educating and urging House Members to vote for the bill. The AGC 'key vote" letter can be found here along with coalition letters from the Transportation Construction Coalition and the Americans for American for Transportation Mobility.
It is anticipated that the House and Senate will begin negotiations soon to resolve the differences between their respective versions of the bill. In conference, the Senate would appear to have the upper hand on most of the transportation policy issues since the House was not successful in passing the policy initiatives in H.R. 7. The House might have some leverage, though, since it could refuse to accept the Senate policy changes and insist on current law. The most politically controversial issue that the conference will have to resolve is the Keystone pipeline language.
AGC will continue to monitor the situation and work closely with those members of Congress who will serve on the conference committee to ensure any final package has the greatest possible impact on the construction industry.