Friday, February 8, 2008

The Week Ahead: February 11-15

Next week the EPW Committee is set to hold two hearings. On Tuesday, February 12, 2008 the Senate EPW Committee will hold a hearing to examine the President's proposed fiscal year 2009 budget for the Civil Works Program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the implementation of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007.

Testifying at the hearing:

-The Honorable John Paul Woodley, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works)

- Lieutenant General Robert L. Van Antwerp, Chief of Engineers and Commanding General, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 

On Thursday, February 14, the EPW Committee will hold a legislative hearing to examine S.1499, a bill to regulate pollution from ships porting in U.S. waters. While some ports have a significant air pollution problems to which ships contribute in part, this bill regulates all ports regardless of how clean their air is instead of applying only to areas with bad air quality. 

The final witness list is not yet available, but witnesses invited to testify by the minority include: 

-Jennifer J. Mouton, Administrator, Air Quality Assessment Division, Louisiana Office of Environmental Assessment

-Joe Accardo, Executive Director, Ports Association of Louisiana

-Mr. Joel Chaisson, Executive Director, Port of South Louisiana

-Ken Wells, President, Offshore Marine Services Association

 

The Week In Review - Hearing Statement on the Perspectives on the Surface Transportation Commission Report

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Link to Inhofe Statement 

Thank you Madame Chairman.  As I said in last week’s hearing, anticipation for the Commission Report has been high.  We must recognize that our nation’s transportation needs have outgrown our current transportation policy.  The link between a robust economy and a strong transportation infrastructure is undeniable; yet when it comes to other spending needs in the federal government, transportation is often neglected as a priority.  As we move into reauthorization in 2009, it is the responsibility of Congress to continue to ensure that American’s receive a full and effective return for the fuel taxes they paid into the Trust Fund.  The results of the Commission’s study will be an important part of those deliberations.

First, I want to point out that although Secretary Peters along with two other Commissioners voted against the final report, there was much agreement on most of the policy recommendations.  For the most part, all the Commissioners found agreement on the vast and unmet needs of our nation’s transportation network, but where they differ is in how to pay for it. I have long advocated for a decreased federal role, which I believe allows for greater flexibility for states to manage their own transportation funding priorities.  It would appear those who wrote the dissenting views concur.

 

Public Private Partnerships or PPPs are a great example of innovative funding ideas we will need to encourage States to explore.  When I was Mayor of Tulsa, we did several PPPs and were able to better leverage scarce public funds to accomplish many good projects.  To date, our thinking on funding highways has been too limited.  We need to acknowledge there are other options.  Certainly, no one should assume that PPPs are the magic bullet, this type of financing is not appropriate in all cases, but it is certainly something that must be explored further by States and frankly this Committee.  There are several larger policy issues that I think need to be discussed, such as the length of leasing options and whether there should be any restraints on how States use lease payments.  Finally, before development of these long term lease agreements become more widely used, we should thoroughly examine the consequences of foreign investment in these leases.  Many argue that the consequences of foreign investments is minimal since the asset is fixed, I would tend to agree; however some concerns have been raised about of the loss of possible future State tolling revenues when tolling proceeds are diverted outside the United States.  There is still much to learn about these lease agreements, and although I support them in principle, I consider them only part of the solution to the highway financing shortfall. 

 

I think the important lessons to take from the report are that if we don’t take dramatic action, growing congestion and deteriorating pavement conditions will choke the US economy.  I am glad that there is consensus among the commissioners that modal specific decisions and the current program structure are outdated.

 

Finally, I have to comment on the proposed financing mechanism.  I believe increasing the federal fuel tax by the amount proposed in the final report is neither politically viable nor economically sound.  Furthermore, I am not convinced it is necessary.  Certainly, given the balances in the Highway Trust Fund, an increase in the fuel tax must be considered, but not to the level that is proposed.  I had hoped that the Commission would have considered in more detail alternative financing mechanisms that could eventually replace the fuel tax as the primary method to collect revenue for transportation.  As vehicles become more fuel efficient, the existing funding model of paying per gallon of fuel will not be effective.

 

Again, I appreciate your efforts and thoughtful recommendations and look forward to discussing them further with you.

EPW BLOG: EPW M.I.A. IN BIOFUELS INCREASE DEBATE; New Studies Raise More Concern over Dramatic RFS Increase Passed by Congress in 2007

Friday, February 8, 2008 

Barely a month after Congress passed the most onerous fuels mandates in history, two new studies have found that an increased use of biofuels may have a significant impact on the environment.  But of course this isn’t surprising to those who actually applied a critical eye to the legislation before Congress imposed a nearly five-fold expansion of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) mandate.  The studies released this week are the latest to raise mounting questions surrounding ethanol’s effect on livestock feed prices, its economic sustainability, its transportation and infrastructure needs, its water usage and numerous other issues.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Environmental Capital blog reports, “Ethanol loses more glitter after a new study shows it is worse for the environment than fossil fuels, reports the WSJ. Planting biofuel crops in grasslands or forests wipes out natural carbon sinks, prompting Grist to argue that the U.S. Congress 'blew it' with its recent biofuel mandate. The NYT reports that prominent scientists wrote the White House and Congress urging a rethink.”

Background

In 2005, Senator Inhofe, as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee worked successfully with his colleagues to create a comprehensive program to promote the use of renewable fuels in the United States in an achievable, measured and economic manner.  The Reliable Fuels Act, ultimately incorporated into the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT), encouraged the production and use of bio-fuels.

Last year, while the Senate Energy Committee was the prime mover of the hastily increased RFS mandate, Senator Inhofe called for increased oversight by the EPW Committee and warned of the unintended consequences of such a drastic increase. Before 2007, the EPW Committee had held at least 13 hearings on the RFS program, most recently an oversight hearing in September 2006 which highlighted the implementation of this new federal RFS program. In 2007, the EPW Committee failed to hold one.

As the ranking member of the EPW Committee, Senator Inhofe was active in calling for the EPW Committee to continue oversight of the RFS program: 

- In his opening statement at the EPW Committee’s Organizational meeting on January 17, 2007, Senator Inhofe expressed his desire for the EPW Committee to keep a watchful eye on the RFS program. He stated: The renewable fuels program is a very popular issue within our jurisdiction. It’s so popular that it’s being discussed in terms of other Committees and other pieces of legislation such as the Farm Bill. I hope that whatever happens on this issue in this Congress, that it happens here in this Committee. Although I am committed to reducing U.S. consumption of Middle East oil, I am deeply concerned of the unintended consequences of sharp increases to the renewable fuels mandate. I have already heard from a variety of livestock producers across the country that the current mandate has hurt their businesses due to higher feed costs. And I am far from alone in my concern – even the Renewable Fuels Association – big ethanol’s lobbying group – has expressed concern with premature increases.”

-In an April 10, 2007, statement Senator Inhofe again expressed the need for the EPW Committee to conduct oversight, saying "I am hopeful that the EPA, as the sole regulatory agency over renewable fuels, considers the impacts of increased corn prices on affected industries like hog and cattle producers as well as consumers. As the current Ranking Member of the EPW Committee, which has principle jurisdiction over motor fuels policy including renewable fuels, I will continue to work with Senator Boxer to provide committee oversight of the RFS program to ensure consistent, flexible, and efficient national policy."

-In May 2007, Senator Inhofe and Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, sent EPW chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) a letter urging her to exercise the EPW Committee’s oversight of the EPA’s renewable fuels program. The letter also asked Chairman Boxer to convene a legislative business meeting to consider related legislation as soon as possible. "As you know, the Committee on Environment and Public Works has exclusive jurisdiction over the existing Renewable Fuels Program and primary jurisdiction over biofuels legislation in general," Senators Inhofe and Voinovich wrote in the May 1 letter to Chairman Boxer. "Further, the Committee has a strong history of considering fuels legislation, whether related to water quality issues or more recently concerning the relationship between air quality and energy security, in a bipartisan manner. We hope that tradition continues under your leadership." Read More

-On Tuesday, December 4, 2007, Senator Inhofe joined Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Benjamin L. Cardin (D - MD), Bernard Sanders (I-VT) and Susan M. Collins (R - ME) in writing a letter to the President to “urge your Administration to carefully evaluate and respond to unintended public health and safety risks that could result from the increased use of ethanol as a ‘general purpose’ transportation fuel.”  The letter notes that the President has called for a national effort to reduce consumers’ demand for gasoline by 20 percent in ten years, in part through increased use of renewable transportation fuels such as ethanol.  In addition, the Senate, as part of its pending energy legislation, has adopted language that would significantly increase renewable fuel use – particularly the use of ethanol – over the next two decades. 

Senator Inhofe’s concern over the rapid increase of the RFS was one of his primary reasons for voting against the energy bill that was passed by Congress last December. In a press release following the vote, he stated:

“Further, I am disappointed that this bill significantly increases the renewable fuels mandate in an irresponsible manner. Through my leadership position on the EPW Committee in 2005, I successfully worked with my colleagues to create a comprehensive program to increase the use of renewable fuels in a measured way that makes economic sense. This bill, however, contains a nearly five-fold expansion in the bio-fuels mandate. The fact is there are a growing number of questions surrounding ethanol’s effect on feed prices and our agricultural community, its economic sustainability, its transportation and infrastructure needs, and its water usage.  As a result, I believe it’s just too early to significantly increase the mandate.  The fuels industry needs more time to adapt and catch-up with the many developing challenges facing corn-based ethanol.”

Read More:

Bi-Partisan Letter Urges President To Consider Health And Safety Issues That Could Result From Increased Use Of Ethanol As “General Purpose” Transportation Fuel (Blog From Friday, December 7, 2007)

In Case You Missed It: "Ethanol's Water Shortage," The Wall Street Journal (October 17, 2007)

Top Ten Democrat Energy Bill Failures (Press Release From Thursday, June 28, 2007)

America’s Energy Future Needs To Be Stable, Diverse And Affordable (Senator Inhofe, The Hill, June 27, 2007) Inhofe: Senate Passed Energy Bill Will Increase Costs To Consumers (Press Release From Friday, June 22, 2007)

Daily Oklahoman: Lacking Energy: Democrats' Bill Doesn't Address Needs (Editorial, June 19, 2007)

 In Case You Missed It...Ethanol's Bitter Taste (Kimberley Strassel, Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2007)  

Inhofe Statement On President’s Executive Order On Cafe And Alternative Fuels  (Press Release From Monday, May 14, 2007) 

Website Update: National Infrastructure and Public Works Accomplishments

Through his leadership position on the EPW Committee, Senator Inhofe has worked to improve our national infrastructure and public works. The information provided below, and now available on the EPW Committee website, reflects the major accomplishment Senator Inhofe has achieved during his time on the Committee. To read more about Senator Inhofe's work on the Senate EPW Committee, visit www.epw.senate.gov/minority/issues

National Infrastructure and Public Works Accomplishments

“As a conservative I have always advocated a limited government role, but I believe the development, construction, and maintenance of infrastructure is an inherently governmental function. In addition to providing for the national defense, I believe the single greatest service we as the federal government can provide our citizens is the necessary infrastructure to enable the United States to remain the economic engine that drives the world's economy.” – Senator Inhofe

Major Legislation Enacted Into Law

H.R. 3 Safe Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU): Signed into Law, August 10, 2005: The bill provides badly-needed funding to improve and repair our bridges, roads and mass transit systems. SAFETEA-LU will help ensure that we have a safe, modern national transportation infrastructure, which is essential for maintaining the nation’s economy.  Further, this is a jobs bill that will create employment opportunities for millions of Americans. The Department of Transportation estimates that every $1 billion of federal money invested in highway improvements creates more than 47,500 jobs. SAFETEA-LU provides $286.4 billion in funding over the 2004-2009 period for the nation’s transportation infrastructure, which is by far the largest federal commitment to infrastructure and creates millions of job opportunities across the country. Learn More: Highway Bill for Oklahoma; Department of Transportation Summery 

 H.R. 1495 Water Resources Development Act of 2007 (WRDA): Enacted into Law, November 8, 2007: The passage of WRDA was one of my top priorities since becoming Chairman of the EPW Committee in 2003, and I am proud to have led the effort to ensure enactment of this critically important national infrastructure bill. WRDA is an authorization bill for the Army Corps of Engineers, largely authorizing construction of water resources projects.  The Army Corps of Engineers is tasked with managing the country’s water resources through navigation, flood damage reduction, hurricane and storm damage reduction, ecosystem restoration projects and others, as well and utilizing out water resources for strategic defense. Enactment of WRDA is a victory for addressing America's water resources needs in a fiscally responsible manner. The WRDA bill is not a spending bill; it is an authorizing bill. It simply sets out which projects and programs are allowed to get in line for future funding and sets the maximum amount of money that can be funded.

S.1134 The Economic Development Administration Reauthorization Act, Signed Into Law, October 27, 2004: One of the main programs of the Economic Development Administration (EDA) is a grants program to support efforts to attract new industry, encourage business expansion, diversify local economies, and generate or retain higher-skill, higher-wage jobs and investments by revitalizing, expanding, and upgrading physical infrastructure.  Examples of infrastructure and development facility investments supported by this program include water and sewer system improvements, skill-training facilities, industrial and business parks, industrial access roads, port and harbor improvements, business incubator facilities, multi-tenant manufacturing facilities, and tourism facilities. The EDA reauthorization bill not only reauthorized the programs for the entire country, but it ensured that the communities of Elgin and Durant will be able to move forward with infrastructure improvements that will support the attraction of private sector investment and the creation of jobs.  It will also result in much needed investment in Ottawa County, providing funding for the City of Miami – a city that has suffered economic hardship due to its proximity to a Superfund site. Additionally, the bill preserves the ability of Economic Development Districts to use planning funds to provide technical assistance and cover administrative costs.  This is especially important for the small, rural communities of Oklahoma that do not have the resources to maintain the professional and technical capacity needed to develop and implement comprehensive economic development strategies.  Economic Development Districts work to fill this hole and should not be prevented from doing so.

Oklahomans Praise Senator Inhofe For Leadership on Infrastructure and Public Works

From the Tulsa World:

Ø      “Jim Inhofe has waged a hard, perhaps even lonely, battle to get Congress to face up to transportation needs. Even the amounts he pushes for are small compared to the massive needs of the transportation system. Fortunately, it appears the majority of the U.S. Senate agrees with him.”  (Editorial: Road work, May 13, 2005)

Ø      “Hats off to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe for staying the course and crafting a transportation bill that will net Oklahoma more highway money than ever before. The good news comes at a time when the state is growing increasingly desperate in its search for resources to address burgeoning transportation needs…    ‘This bill is historic for Oklahoma,’ said Inhofe. ‘I am extremely proud of the increase in funding the state will receive from this legislation.’ He should be. No other state leader has achieved such a feat in modern Oklahoma history.” (Editorial: Highways win, August 1, 2005)

Ø      “The federal money was acquired through the efforts of the state's congressional delegation, but especially because of the work of Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. His seniority allowed him to obtain a much larger highway construction bill than the president wanted. In addition to I-44 work, there is another $200 million-plus in highway improvements for Oklahoma in the bill. For the first time, Oklahomans will get back a little more in highway funds than they pay out in federal fuel taxes. When it comes to federal funds for highways, it's "hats in the air" time in Tulsa.” (Editorial: No more obstacles, August 13, 2005)

Ø      “Thanks to the efforts of U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and others, water development projects soon could be sprinkled throughout the state, vastly improving critically needed infrastructure, expanding and improving water supplies and irrigation sources, and opening the way for major lakeside developments that could bring new life to flagging communities…A former Tulsa mayor, Inhofe is keenly aware of the limited resources cities face, which no doubt is one reason he pushed this measure. Inhofe's conservative credentials surely are as good as anyone's, so the argument this bill is laden with unnecessary pork just doesn't hold water. (Sorry.) That won't stop the charges of the "born-again conservatives," as he describes them, who won't support these justifiable, much-needed infrastructure improvements. But we here in Tulsa, and Lawton, and Duncan, and Waurika, and Wilburton, and Bethany, and Woodward, and Disney, and Durant (etc., etc.) know better.” Water, Water Everywhere (Janet Pearson, Tulsa World, Sept. 30, 2007)

The Oklahoman:

There's no question the water bill contains money for important projects. As Casteel reports, Inhofe got $30 million included to complete relocation of Tar Creek-area residents, as well as a provision that would save Edmond $10 million in its Arcadia Lake dispute with the Corps of Engineers. The real issue is keeping worthy projects on track while weeding out those of questionable merit, an effort Inhofe believes will be hampered by an early, unsuccessful veto. We think he's right.” (Water Works: Ill-Timed Veto Might Backfire On Bush, September 26, 2007)

“SEN. Jim Inhofe said earlier this month that he didn’t think it was necessary for the state Department of Transportation to have two lobbyists in Washington as Congress worked on the next long-term highway bill. “They certainly don’t need to when I’m the chairman,” Inhofe said. “All they have to do is come talk to me.” Inhofe, R-Tulsa, proved his point. As chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, he led the move to pass the Senate version of the new six-year bill. He also was cochairman and top senator on the conference committee that wrote the final version of the $286.4 billion highway bill that emerged late last week.” (Road bill great news for state)

Miami Mayor Brent Brassfield: “Sen. Inhofe has really stepped forward to help Miami, Ottawa County and northeast Oklahoma…We need to use these dollars prudently and work on multiplying this investment for our future. We want to continue creating jobs because having a job is what’s best for the residents of northeast Oklahoma.” (October 11, 2004, Miami News Record)

Mr. Rick Bourque, City Manager for Wewoka: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank Senator Inhofe and Senator Crapo for holding this hearing and for giving the City of Wewoka the chance to speak out on this very important issue. As Senator Inhofe knows from when he served as the Mayor of Tulsa, managing a city is never an easy task. Unlike the Federal Government, we do not have the capacity to run deficits. Our books must always balance. This is difficult enough in the best of times, but when outside factors like unfunded mandates come into play, it is almost impossible. This is especially true in a small town like Wewoka.”  Testimony from Mr. Rick Bourque, City Manager for Wewoka, July 7, 2004.

Praise For Senator Inhofe from Across the Country

National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association “Congressional Transportation Leaders Award”: “This award recognizes your important role in implementing the Safe, Accountable, Flexible Transportation Equity Act – a legacy for users (SAFETEA-LU). Combined with your concern for the soundness of the Highway Trust Fund and the future of transportation infrastructure in the United States, our association has been inspired to honor both your vision and your persuasive hard work. Your efforts in this area help build America’s economy by assuring that our people and our nation’s products are able to move safely and efficiently along environmental sensitive heights, in and out of air and seaports, and via inland waterways and rail.”   National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association  presented Senator Inhofe with their Congressional Transportation Leaders Award. 

National Rural Water Association Awards Sen. Inhofe “Green Key” Environmental Award:  “…no one in the country is more familiar with challenge of providing safe drinking water to rural communities, with limited economies, than Senator Inhofe…He knows that small towns with limited resources need common-sense assistance in a form they can understand and afford and that the best method for long-term protection is having the local people take responsibly for protecting their own resources. I know I speak for everyone of us who lives and believes in rural America when I thank you for standing up for rural America in the U.S. Senate. Millions of rural households have been provided safe water thanks to your work.”

National Association of Development Organizations Awards Senator Inhofe “Congressional Partnership Award”: “On behalf of the National Association of Development Organizations, thank you for your outstanding leadership in securing final passage of the Economic Development Administration reauthorization bill (S. 1134). This is an important jobs creation bill for distressed and undeserved communities throughout the nation.” (NADO October 12, 2004)

National Institutes for Water Resources Award: At its 2007 annual meeting, the National Institutes for Water Resources (NIWR) honored Senator Inhofe for his leadership and support for water resources research, education and training. In 2005 Senator Inhofe sponsored legislation to reauthorize the Water Resources Research Act (WRRA). The WRRA established a partnership among state universities, federal, state, and local governments, and stakeholders intended to solve water supply and water quality problems and to provide research and solutions to water managers and users. As Chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, Senator Inhofe managed reauthorization legislation (Public Law 109-475) through committee, Floor consideration, and ultimately approval by the House and Senate in 2006. President Bush signed this legislation on January 11, 2007. The Oklahoma Water Resources Research Institute (OWRRI), located at Oklahoma State University, has been given responsibility by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) to gather public input for use in updating the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan. The OWRRI has committed all of its WRRA-authorized research over the next four years to support the update of the comprehensive water plan.  This research will specifically address issues that arise during the planning process, such as the development of additional water supplies, regionalization of facilities, and infrastructure upgrades.

American Road and Transportation Builders Association 2004 “ARTBA Award”:  “In 1960 the ARTBA established the ARTBA Award to recognize individuals for outstanding contributions that have advanced the broad goals of the association. It is the highest honor the association bestows. Many distinguished members of the transportation construction industry receive the award, including more than a dozen U.S representatives and 11 U.S Senators, two U.S. secretaries of transportation and two state governors.” http://www.artba.org/pdf/2005_Award_Winning_Programs.pdf

 The American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) August 1, 2007: “The American Shore and Beach Preservation (ASBPA)….. commends Senator Boxer and Inhofe for the bipartisanship and unity they showed in crafting this excellent bill.”

 Ingram Barge Company, August 31, 2007: “I appreciate the perseverance and outstanding work of your colleagues and staff who have worked so diligently to get us to this stage of the process.  Your action on this piece of legislation will make a major impact in the future of the Commercial Towing Industry...”

Water Service Department, September 4, 2007: “The City of Kansas City has been very supportive if the reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act each year since 2000 when the last version was passed.  We appreciate all the hard work you and your colleagues have devoted to this effort.”

Martin County Board of County Commissioners, October 2, 2007: “On behalf of the citizens of Martin County, Florida, we want to thank you for your leadership in securing the overwhelming passage of WRDA Conference Report.  Without your bipartisan spirit of cooperation, and that of your committee membership, such a great victory would not have been possible.”

National Construction Alliance, August 31, 2007: “Our three constituent unions, the Laborers, Operating Engineers and Carpenters, commend you both for your strong, bipartisan leadership throughout the lengthy legislative process on this important legislation…your bill will immeasurably strengthen America’s water resources.”