Business Meeting to consider the following items: a bill to extend the programs of SAFETEA-LU; Robert Perciasepe, Nominated to be Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; and Craig Hooks, Nominated to be Assistant Administrator, Administration & Resources Management, Environmental Protection Agency.
July 15, 2009
Madam Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to vote on the nominations of Robert Perciasepe for EPA Deputy Administrator and Craig Hooks for Assistant Administrator of OARM. I said when they came before us for their hearing that I intended to vote to confirm them, and I saw nothing during their hearing or in their replies to my written questions to change my mind.
In voting for them, however, I don’t want to leave the impression that everything is fine with EPA’s current way of operating. I continue to be concerned about the lack of transparency in the Agency’s decision-making and sharing of information. The willingness to suppress dissenting views, the lack of straightforward answers to questions from members of this Committee, and the slow pace of getting information—all indicate that Administrator Lisa Jackson’s pledge of “overwhelming transparency” is ringing hollow. That is why I asked for an investigation into the suppression of the March 9 draft report on the endangerment finding for greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, and why I repeat that call now.
Because of this trend at EPA, and because of my disappointment over EPA’s recent analysis of the Waxman-Markey bill, I want to express support for Sen. Voinovich’s right to place a hold on Mr. Perciasepe. I agree with Sen. Voinovich’s call for comprehensive, objective analysis to inform this Committee’s debate on cap-and-trade in September. Sen. Voinovich has asked EPA to use more realistic assumptions in its analysis of cap-and-trade legislation. That is a reasonable request and I urge Administrator Jackson to respond to Sen. Voinovich as soon as possible. To be clear, as I noted earlier, my support for Sen. Voinovich’s action should not be construed as an indictment of Mr. Perciasepe. I support his nomination and look forward to working through the hold to get him confirmed.
I cannot say I am happy about having to do an extension, but the reality is that we are not going to make significant progress in reauthorizing SAFETEA until we know how we are going to pay for the next highway bill. At this point, we need to find at least $100 billion dollars to fund the next bill—the bill Chairman Oberstar is pushing will require closer to $150 billion in new Highway Trust Fund receipts. There are no good options to fill such a large gap. So far there has been overwhelming opposition to increasing the gas tax during the current recession, including from the White House and myself.
There is no doubt that we need to do an extension. There is, however, some debate about how long the extension should be. The Administration and most Senators support 18 months. Some other members of Congress would prefer 6 months.
The reality is that shorter extensions do not exert pressure on Congress. When we were trying to push SAFETEA through the legislative process, we enacted 12 extensions over a period of 22 months. Shorter extensions did not speed up the process—they only created uncertainty and uneven funding for state departments of transportation. Given the fiscal pressures on states and the current economic downturn, this uncertainty would be devastating to states and would translate into job losses.
Today we are just considering the extension of the highway programs that expires on September 30th. There is another critical piece that needs to be added to this on the floor. As we have discussed many times in this Committee, the Highway Trust Fund is going to run out of money sometime in the next few weeks and will require an infusion of $5 to $7 billion to get through the rest of fiscal year 2009. Additional funds will be needed to fund the highway and transit programs in future years.
Today we are considering an 18 month extension. The Trust Fund will require a total of $20 billion to get through this 18 month period, according to this Administration. It is critical to fix this shortfall. Failing to do so will delay planned and ongoing road projects and result in people being laid off. This would be unacceptable any time, but more so during today’s economic downturn.
There are a number of ways of plugging this shortfall. My preferred method is to recoup lost interest not paid on cash balances in the Trust Fund since 1998. TEA-21 made 2 negative changes to the Trust Fund: the first being the $8 billion transfer from the Trust Fund to the general fund that was restored last September; and the second ended the long-standing practice of crediting the Trust Fund with interest on its cash balances. Repaying the Trust Fund for lost interest would result in about $17 billion.
According to the Congressional Research Service, every other major trust fund is credited with interest on cash balances; from Social Security to the Airports and Airways Trust Fund. In fact, I am not aware of any other trust fund that is not credited with interest on cash balances.
I urge my colleagues to support this long term clean extension and a Highway Trust Fund fix as soon as possible.