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8 Senate Dems Join Industry in a Gas-Tax Warning to Climate Bill’s Authors

As Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) prepare to unveil a new climate change measure that includes a tax on motor fuels, eight of their colleagues are urging the trio not to forget local transportation planning -- and warning that any new gas tax should be used to help pay for a new federal infrastructure bill, not redirected for other purposes.

carper.jpgSen. Tom Carper (D-DE) (Photo: Politics Daily)

In a letter sent yesterday to Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman, the eight Senate sponsors of a proposal to guarantee clean transport a share of the revenue generated by a cap-and-trade system for cutting emissions asked that their bill's core mission be preserved in the upper chamber's new "tripartisan" climate bill.

The Senate letter follows a similar missive sent to Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman last week by 27 groups representing road, transit, bicycling, engineering, and labor interests.

Those groups warned the trio bluntly that using proceeds from a new fuel tax for purposes other than funding new transportation projects -- such as rebating the money back to consumers, as Graham suggested last month -- would exacerbate the already significant funding crisis facing federal infrastructure policymakers.

But the hesitation of Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman's
colleagues ultimately could carry the most weight, given that the
trio's forthcoming climate bill would need to win backing from nearly
every Democratic senator in order to overcome a GOP filibuster.

"We
are concerned that, in addition to realizing insufficient
transportation emissions reductions, your legislation may not invest
revenue generated from the transportation sector into our crumbling
infrastructure," the group of eight wrote.

The letter was spearheaded by Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Arlen Specter (D-PA), lead authors of the so-called "CLEAN TEA" bill, and signed by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

Their letter notes that the U.S. DOT estimates that $30 billion more per year is needed simply to maintain the nation's existing transport infrastructure. "Improving our infrastructure to provide for the maximum economic
benefit," they continued, "will require an additional investment of $75
billion per year. If your legislation raises revenue from the
transportation sector but does not reinvest funds into infrastructure,
our efforts to enact a surface transportation authorization bill in the
near future will be constrained." 

More than three dozen transportation reform and environmental groups followed with a third letter making similar points. An excerpt from that letter follows after the jump, along with the full transportation industry letter sent last week.

The transport-reform and environmental groups, including Transportation for America, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club, joined Amtrak, and advocates for urbanism, bicycling, and high-speed rail in their letter to Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman. Here's an excerpt:

Providing some level of direct consumer rebates within your bill may be one way to address transportation costs. However, it is even more important to invest in essential public infrastructure and technology that will create jobs now and save Americans money on transportation costs in the long term, including strategies such as expanded public transportation, vehicle electrification, and complete streets. A robust portion of the revenue generated by your legislation should be invested in such transportation technology and infrastructure.

Here's a complete copy of the letter sent to the Senate trio last week by 27 transport industry groups, including the full list of signatories:

Dear Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman:

Onbehalf of the organizations signed below, we write to urge you todevelop a proposal for climate and energy legislation that retains thelong-standing principle of dedicating revenues derived fromtransportation motor fuels to improving the nation’s highway and publictransportation systems. To that end, we hope to work with you todevelop a strategy that promotes energy independence, reducesgreenhouse gas emissions, and improves the condition of criticaltransportation infrastructure.

Federal motor fueluser fees have supported the Federal Highway Trust Fund since 1956 andthe Mass Transit Account of the Trust Fund since 1982. These user feesare the lifeblood of our highways and transit systems which movemillions of people and tons of cargo every day. Previous increases inthe federal motor fuels tax rate in 1990 and 1993 dedicated somerevenue to temporary, short-term deficit reduction, an important goalthat remains relevant today, but every other increase has supportedlong-term investment in our transportation infrastructure. Since 1997all motor fuel revenues have been deposited in the Trust Fund.

Oursurface transportation system faces monumental challenges. The needs ofour roads and transit systems far exceed current investment levels. TheU.S. Department of Transportation estimates that more than $30 billionper year of new investment is needed simply to maintain our highways,bridges, and transit systems in their current state of repair and $75billion of new investment is needed annually to improve conditions andperformance. Unfortunately, the current authorizing law for highway andtransit programs expired last year and has been repeatedly extended ona short-term basis. This prevents states and transit agencies fromadvancing much-needed transportation projects that require predictable,multi-year funding. Further, the Highway Trust Fund has requiredseveral transfers of funds over the past three years and a restorationof interest payments to remain temporarily solvent, but it still cannotsustain the current rate of outlays. Any proposal to divert user feesfrom motor fuels while our roads, bridges, and transit systems areneglected is not sound policy.

The solution to thetransportation crisis is the quick passage of a new multi-yearauthorization bill that accelerates job creation with significant newinvestment and institutes a more performance-oriented federaltransportation program. Enacting a new transportation bill quickly willbe very difficult, if not impossible, should Congress approvelegislation that diverts revenue from carbon-based fees from motorfuels away from the transportation investment.

Failureto enact a transportation bill will not only harm our economiccompetitiveness, it will impair the ability of states, counties, citiesand transit systems to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and reducetransportation-related emissions. Without a new authorization bill,expanding access to transportation choices like public transportationthat reduce emissions and modernizing our highways and infrastructuresimply cannot occur. The transportation sector accounts for 70 percentof domestic oil consumption and one-third of carbon pollution.

Newfees placed on transportation fuels should be dedicated to the HighwayTrust Fund and invested along with other surface transportation fundsunder a multi-year highway and transit authorization bill. Increasingthe availability of funds for transportation would help addresstransportation infrastructure investment needs and expand access topublic transportation and other fuel-saving transportationimprovements. We hope to work with you to develop climate and energylegislation that benefits the environment, as well as our economy, ourworkers and the surface transportation infrastructure on which we allrely.

Sincerely,

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) America Bikes American Concrete Pavement Association (ACPA) American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) American Highway Users Alliance American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) American Trucking Associations (ATA) Associated Equipment Distributors (AED) Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT) Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO) International Union of Operating Engineers Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA!) League of American Bicyclists National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) 3 National Association of Counties (NACo) National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA) New Starts Working Group Safe Routes to School National Partnership Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America

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