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2009 Transportation Bill

Oberstar to White House: On Emissions, Back Up Your Words With Action

Appearing this morning at the release of a new report on transportation's role in fighting climate change, House transportation committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) challenged the Obama administration to back up their emissions rhetoric with action and pass his six-year, $450 billion infrastructure bill.

610x_1.jpgFTA's Peter Rogoff (in hard hat) heard strong words from Rep. Oberstar today. (Photo: WP)

After U.S. DOT deputy secretary John Porcari and Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff delivered laudatory remarks about the Moving Cooler report, a joint project of government agencies and environmental groups, Oberstar took the stage with pointed words for the two senior officials.

"They need to ... catch up with the House" on transportation policy-making, Oberstar said of Porcari and Rogoff, who were sitting within spitting distance of the chairman.

"If you don't pass our bill, you're not going to get a head start on these strategies" for reducing the carbon footprint of the transportation sector, Oberstar told the White House aides.

He added: "The president gets it -- the crowd around him doesn't."

The White House continues to press for an 18-month postponement of the next long-term transportation bill, which Oberstar asserts could drag reform past the two-year mark and continue an inequitable system that favors new highway construction over transit. 

"When highway planners sit down to build a roadway," Oberstar said today, "they don't go through the gymnastics of a cost-effectiveness index," as transit planners are currently required to do. "They sit down, get the money, and build a road."

Expanding transit, the House chairman concluded, is difficult "if you've got a millstone around your neck."

Yet the House bill has a millstone of its own obstructing movement: the lack of revenue to fund a doubling in new transit investment and other Oberstar priorities. As Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) acknowledged this morning, hiking the federal gas tax -- which has remained at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993 -- will not be feasible until the recession dissipates.

"We are going to raise gas and diesel taxes sometime in the next decade," Blumenauer said, but "not while the economy is in freefall."

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