REMARKS BY SENATOR BOXER
HEARING BY THE ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE
March 18, 1997

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I just have a few remarks about one of the subjects of today's hearing, the environment.

I do not believe that I am exaggerating when I suggest that when you look back on the environmental progress of the 20th Century, passage of ISTEA (the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act) is a red letter date. ISTEA completed the historic link in our laws between transportation and the environment. ISTEA established that transportation capacity projects must meet air quality standards.

We cannot proceed with the reauthorization of our transportation programs without this linkage. We cannot look at the condition and performance of our highways, bridges and transit systems without looking at the condition of the environment. Before ISTEA, transportation was blind to its environmental consequences. We cannot put those blinders back on and then look at our children and say we did right by you.

This is the problem: 65 percent of carbon monoxide emissions and 47 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions come from cars and trucks. Carbon monoxide is repeatedly linked to increased hospital admissions for congestive heart failure. Nitrogen oxide, which helps form smog, is linked to respiratory illness, which has particular adverse effects on our children and elderly. Recent research suggests that fine particulate matter may be the worst pollutant of all and can cause a variety of harmful health effects.

Even though vehicle emissions are cleaner now than a few years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency is predicting that continued growth in the use of vehicles will wipe out any gains from cleaner fuel vehicles by the year 2005.

More than 43 million people in the United States live in areas that fail to meet EPA's air quality standards for carbon monoxide. We have 13 million people in non-attainment areas for nitrogen oxide. And, in my state of California, nearly 26 million people live in a non- attainment area for one or more pollutants, out of a state of nearly 33 million people!

This is the tool we need: the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program. This $6 billion program under ISTEA has given our local governments the funding needed to try and meet the air quality standards. To enact the next transportation bill without CMAQ would leave our cities and counties with an unfunded Federal mandate, under the Clean Air Act, to clean up their air.

Our local governments have used CMAQ in a variety of ways based on their own situations. Some fund mass transit, or traffic management improvements, or disabled vehicle assistance, or purchasing clean fuel vehicle fleets. We need to provide more technical assistance to local governments so they will purchase and operate clean fuel fleets.

We also need to make provision for areas_that improve air quality from non-attainment to maintenance status. I want to thank this committee for its support of my provision in the National Highway System Designation Act, which preserved CMAQ funding for these areas with improving air quality but still needing assistance. That "freeze" on CMAQ funding for such areas saved $55 million for the San Francisco Bay Area, and kept a major transit project serving the Silicon Valley on track. In the next ISTEA, we need to provide a permanent fix that would allow continued CMAQ funding to air quality maintenance areas but at a lower level of funding. I am pleased the Administration plan closely tracks the program offered by the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Commission in this regard.

Now, we face the prospect of revised air standards that could nearly triple the number of non-attainment areas in the country. The next ISTEA must provide the additional CMAQ funding needed to cover these new areas without reducing funds for current non- attainment areas.

I will close with a couple of comments on another innovative program that has helped spur alternative transportation. That's the transportation enhancements program. This program sets aside 10 percent of the Surface Transportation Program for bike trails, scenic byways and historic preservation, among other uses. My state has been very aggressive in using this funding for projects to enhance its communities. The state and local communities choose how to spend these funds. About a third of California's projects involve bicycle or pedestrian paths. The extensive bike trail networks in the state serve not just recreation but in many cases become non-polluting commuter lanes.

I am pleased to see the Administration's support for continuing this program.

I look forward to the testimony today. We have a real challenge to maintain this important link between transportation and the environment into the next century.