WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “The Economic Benefits of Highway Infrastructure Investment and Accelerated Project Delivery.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing. I also thank our witnesses for joining us today. When people ask me what I like most about my job, I often say that I really like getting things done.
“One thing that I would really like to get done this Congress is a transportation bill. So I’m glad to report that Chairman Barrasso and I have already started working on a bipartisan surface transportation reauthorization. I believe we have a real opportunity to get it done. As we work to achieve that goal, I believe we must acknowledge three important facts. First, the number one way to accelerate projects, quite simply, is to pay for them.
“Second, while the level of investment is critical, we also need new thinking as to how we invest and which innovative solutions will truly improve outcomes.
“Third, and perhaps most important, the benefits of highway infrastructure investment will be impeded -- if not downright nullified -- if we do not address the threats of climate change and extreme weather events that are increasingly disrupting our nation’s transportation system.
“Let me speak first about project delivery and funding. Today, over 95 percent of highway projects are categorically excluded from review under the National Environmental Policy Act. Moreover, the highway bill passed in 2005 had 10 environmental streamlining provisions for highway projects, the highway bill in 2012 had 23 environmental streamlining provisions for highway projects, and the highway bill in 2015 had 18 streamlining provisions for highway projects, and an additional 10 environmental streamlining provisions for large infrastructure projects. So while I will consider all ideas fairly, as I always do, let me be absolutely clear: I will not support legislation that weakens environmental protections in the name of accelerating transportation project delivery.
“Sometimes it seems that the focus on cutting environmental protections is a way to avoid talking about the 800 pound gorilla in the room, which is our funding shortfall.
“We have a deficit in the Highway Trust Fund that is $13 billion per year, and growing. And despite spending more than we collect, we still aren’t spending enough to make a dent in the $800 billion backlog of investments needed to merely improve our highways and bridges. We also need to look beyond the total level of investment, and think about the transportation goals we are trying to achieve. For instance, despite increasing spending every year, our safety outcomes continue to be dismal, with more than 37,000 Americans killed on our roads last year.
“So, as we begin to work on the surface transportation bill, we’re looking for opportunities to address these challenges and support a new vision for a 21st century transportation system.
“One critical element of that vision is addressing the global emergency of climate change. The transportation sector is now our nation’s largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. To reduce those emissions, federal policy can—and should—encourage the purchase of electric or alternative fuel vehicles through tax policy, as well as through funding for fueling and charging infrastructure.
“Finally, we must ensure that we are planning and designing transportation systems that are sustainable and resilient to increasingly severe weather and extreme weather events. Nearly two years ago, the Rocky Mountain Institute published a report that said installing electric vehicle charging infrastructure should be, quote, ‘[an] urgent priority in all states and major municipalities… The time to act is now.’
“I agree. Later today, I will introduce the Clean Corridors Act of 2019. This legislation would provide grants for the installment of electric vehicle charging infrastructure and hydrogen fueling infrastructure along the National Highway System. Even better yet, this legislation will help us in our efforts to put the United States back in the driver’s seat of the world’s clean energy economy, while creating green manufacturing jobs here at home.
“I am confident we can pass this bill, as well as surface transportation reauthorization into law. If we are able to address climate change, encourage innovation and produce a sustainable source of funding, then we will have achieved a great victory for the American people. I think we can, and I believe we will.