Over the years, I’ve have had the opportunity to work on the issue of conformity quite a bit. Having chaired this subcommittee during TEA-21, I worked to ensure that states had the tools necessary to meet the requirements in the Clean Air Act. Working with Senator Bond, this committee gave States the flexibility to demonstrate conformity once an area may be newly designated as being in non-attainment. These new non-attainment areas were given a one-year grace period to demonstrate conformity avoiding the immediate risk of losing critical funding for highway projects.
More recently, having served as Ranking Member for the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, I, again, had the opportunity to work closely on the issue of conformity by working to ensure that requirements of the Clean Air Act and the transportation needs of States and communities do not run in conflict with each other.
Today, conformity remains a major issue. It is crucial that the important goals of conformity remain a top priority of the work of this committee. We must work to ensure that rather than being a process driven issue, conformity will be about striking the right balance between transportation needs and improving air quality standards, and allowing communities the flexibility to achieve both.
I am pleased to report to this Committee that currently Oklahoma is fully in attainment. However, my home town of Tulsa may soon face issues with ozone attainment with the adoption of the new standards. I have invited Mr. Jerry Lasker here today representing the MPO for Northeastern Oklahoma. I understand that Tulsa is working on an “early action compact” to avoid a non-attainment designation. I look forward to hearing Mr. Lasker’s testimony today on this “compact.” I wanted to highlight the “early action compact” because it is just another example of flexibility for States to meet air quality and transportation needs. Programs like early action compacts should shape our frame of mind in considering issues of conformity and attainment.
Nevertheless, there are currently 196 counties in non-attainment for ozone. However, under the new standards, there will be 291 counties in non-attainment for ozone. In reality, this figure will be much, much higher because counties that are on the boarders of these new 291 non-attainment counties will be also placed in non-attainment. With this many more areas in non-attainment, these “early action compacts” could be more important than ever. Regardless, these attainment problems around the country are the makings of a “perfect conformity storm.” Therefore, we must take a very close look at the issues surrounding conformity.
Specifically, we should look at:
1. Synchronizing conformity requirements with State Implementation Plans (SIP’s), Transportation Improvement Plans (TIP’s), and long range transportation plans in a better way;
2. Ensuring that governmental agencies and MPO’s have more flexibility on conformity; and
3. A greater degree of predictability on the conformity process for the private sector.
Under the same principle of flexibility, CMAQ was designed to give States flexibility to tailor projects to meet attainment with NAAQS. With ISTEA’s and TEA-21's authorization of CMAQ funds, we now have a number of years of experience to evaluate the value of CMAQ funding to States. With that information and National Academy of Sciences Report 264, it is important that this committee consider the future of CMAQ as to how best to enable States to meet air quality attainment.
One last item: I would like to submit for the record testimony from the National Association of Homebuilders. I think Members and staff would benefit from NAHB’s interesting perspective on the issues of conformity and CMAQ.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today, and, again, would like to welcome Mr. Lasker and thank him for coming all the way to Washington from Oklahoma to help educate the Committee on these issues.