I have heard different opinions about the CMAQ program. It appears that some state and local governments find it useful to finance projects that help them to reach nonattainment status for ozone and carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act. However, I understand that there are certain strict requirements that these competing projects must meet to be eligible for CMAQ set-asides. This calls into question its effectiveness of assisting the projects that most need it as well as the need for there to be a set-aside at all. Personally, I have trouble with mandatory set-asides since they can sometimes stifle flexibility and the most efficient usage of funds. This not to say however, that we should eliminate the CMAQ program altogether. It should just be less restrictive and more flexible.
As Chairman of the Clean Air Subcommittee under EPW I have been keeping a close eye on how the Administration plans to handle the possibility of EPA's proposed ambient air quality standards for ozone and particulate matter with relation to the transportation industry and the NEXTEA. I have a couple of concerns so bear with me. Under current law, ozone nonattainment areas are classified in terms of severity by rating them on a scale of marginal to extreme and then assigned a weighted formula for the distribution of CMAQ dollars. The new air standards proposed by EPA eliminate the marginal-extreme weighting system for ozone, thus skewing the initial equality of areas already in nonattainment compared to areas that will come into nonattainment should the new regulations be promulgated. I feel this needs to be clarified.
Another concern is with the small rural counties that will find themselves in noncompliance under a PM 2.5 standard. CMAQ funds are distributed mainly to urban areas, however even under EPA's conservative estimates there will be a multitude of rural areas that will all of a sudden find themselves in nonattainment. This concerns me because it is these small counties that do not have the need for HOV lanes and transit that urban areas have so they will have a more difficult time having projects that qualify for CMAQ dollars.
Under the new NAAQS proposal, hundreds of more counties will be thrown into nonattainment stretching the CMAQ funds even tighter, while the Administration proposes a "hold-harmless" provision, the use of that provision will take money directly from the STP fund. Even with the $300 million dollars the Administration proposes adding to CMAQ, I think they will have to rob the STP funds to a far greater extent than they are admitting. The proposed NAAQS standards are an unfunded mandate and I am concerned that under a court challenge that the EPA and the affected counties will expect the funding for these costly mandates to come from the CMAQ fund which will in turn exhaust the STP funds.
In short, environmental programs are meant to play a role in our transportation system of today. My hometown of Tulsa has made enormous strides toward cleaner air and remained in compliance with air quality standards. However, CMAQ has been unfair in the past, cities which have bordered on nonattainment have not qualified for sufficient funding levels to enact measures which keep them in attainment. Tulsa already receives fewer CMAQ dollars than other cities, although they have had to spend enormous time and resources maintaining their current attainment status. If the goal posts move with the promulgation of these new EPA regs Tulsa will have even more competition for CMAQ money.
We need to be cautious about mandatory set-asides and where the money is actually going. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses.