STATEMENT OF CHRISTOPHER S. BOND
EPW Hearing on Transportation Project Delivery
and Environmental Streamlining
Thursday, September 19, 2002, 9:30 am, SD-406
• Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing to examine the progress made on environmental streamlining under TEA-21. As the Department of Transportation itself says, “Environmentally responsible transportation improvements, delivered on time and within budget, is a simple vision that all too often evades the USDOT and its partners.”
• Everyone of us in this room knows the importance and role that transportation plays in our everyday lives, and especially in our economy. Our economic stability and progress is tied directly to transportation. As my dear friend and colleague from Virginia, Senator Warner, often says - this is a one world market. Our country’s transportation infrastructure makes it so.
• My home state of Missouri has always been a leader in the area of transportation. In 1808, King’s Highway, from St. Louis to southeast Missouri, became the first legally designated road west of the Mississippi. In 1929, Missouri was the first state to protect and earmark funds for highway purposes. The first stretch of interstate road on which work actually began anywhere in the country was Interstate 70 in St. Charles, Missouri.
• Missouri, at the geographic center of the United States, serves as a confluence not only for our Nation’s highway system, but also for our Nation’s two greatest waterways, the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. With the 2nd and 3rd largest rail hubs, and the 2nd largest inland port in the United States, Missouri products travel to all fifty states and all reaches of the globe.
• So we care a lot about transportation in Missouri. We also care a great deal about the environment. I have fought long and hard to increase the amount of money we spend in Missouri and across the Nation on cleaning our water and making it safe to drink. I hope that next year we will come to a consensus on further air pollution reductions from electric power utilities.
• We cannot give away our environmental gains achieved over the last 30 years to transportation projects that needlessly hurt our environment. I share the Historic Trust’s belief that “environmental reviews are an essential element in transportation development.”
• I also agree with the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials that “environmental stewardship begins not with new laws and regulations, but with a commitment by transportation agencies themselves to make environmental protection and environmental enhancement an integral part of their mission.”
• But with that commitment, how far can we get under the current laws and regulations? According to FHWA, it typically takes from 9 to 19 years to plan, gain approval for, and construct a new major federally funded highway project that has significant environmental impacts. That is far too long.
• Some would say that the environmental portion is a minority of that time period. That just hides the fact that the average length of time to process environmental documents for major projects is still over five years. Some may be proud that the average is now five years and two months instead of five years and ten months, but it’s still over five years and that’s just too long.
• Part of the problem is groups who use well-meaning environmental reviews for nothing but delay. Testifying before this Committee, the Executive Director of the Surface Transportation Policy Project admitted that, “In the struggle between the proponents and opponents of a controversial project, the best an opponent can hope for is to delay things until the proponents change their minds or tire of the fight. That is the only option they have so they use it.”
• Sometimes these advocates of delay are actually aided by government themselves. Attempts by DOT in the last administration failed to implement the intent of Congress in TEA-21. Their regulatory proposals were riddled with new requirements that could easily mushroom into major new causes of delay, cost overruns and litigation. They also left many existing problems unaddressed, resulting in missed opportunities to achieve the reforms we intended.
• Many states are trying to implement innovative new programs to streamline environmental and historic preservation reviews. I was particularly impressed by the example of Vermont, home state of our Chairman.
• According to testimony we will hear later today, Vermont delegated sign off authority under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act to the state Agency of Transportation itself. Maybe we should consider going national with this Vermont model? Do you think that we could delegate sign-off for environmental reviews to the Department of Transportation? Somehow, I don’t think that would pass.
• All kidding aside, we still have a long way to go in realizing our vision of environmentally responsible transportation improvements, delivered on time and within budget. Memorandums of understanding, or other well meaning but toothless tools calling for agencies to do nothing more than “play nicely” are insufficient.
• I commend President Bush for his leadership in issuing his executive order on environmental streamlining. Putting the weight and authority of the President behind the need to deliver environmentally sensitive transportation projects on time and on budget is a great step.
• However, we know that administrations come and go. The next administration may not share the same commitment to our Nation’s transportation infrastructure. We need to institutionalize any improvements we may make and we should consider doing so in legislation.
• We need to take a serious look at proposals which strengthen the overall NEPA decision-making process and eliminate inefficiencies in the system. Some suggestions include:
-- putting a final end to the major investment study requirement and recognizing the innovations occurring at state and local levels
-- designating USDOT and state DOTs as lead agencies in the NEPA process for surface transportation projects
-- establishing default deadlines for agency and public comments, with allowances for alternative deadlines or extensions, and
-- providing clear guidance on how to define a project’s purpose and need statement in a NEPA document.
• I look forward to working with my colleagues on all of these issues.