Article by Greg Scott (Adapted from ASCE National)
The 114th Congress convened in January with over 70 new members and a Republican majority in the Senate. We hope that ASCE Priority Issues, like infrastructure renewal, will be opportunities for bipartisan consensus and action. Here are some of the ASCE's Priority Issues that the new Congress will address over the coming months.
1. First on the list for Congress is crafting new surface transportation policy legislation for the existing law, MAP-21. The most difficult task will be preventing a future funding shortfall within the Highway Trust Fund, which will remain solvent until this summer. This week, Senators have been encouraging in their statements for a long-term fix to the trust fund. Some Senate chairmen remaining open to an increase in the gas tax, and others endorse the approach. ASCE is on-record in support of a 25 cent per gallon increase in the federal gas tax and will be working with Congress on all options to #FixTheTrustFund.
2. Also on the transportation priority list, Congress is renewing the current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization bill. This legislation governs policy for the agency as well as provides runway project grants and authority for airports to collect passenger fees. ASCE is advocating in favor of an increase in the current federal cap on passenger facility charges (PFCs). PFCs are fees collected locally by airports and used for a variety of modernization projects including constructing new runways, terminal areas, noise mitigation, and airport access.
1. Congress aggressively moved legislation for the Keystone XL pipeline to carry Canadian oil across the US Midwest to Gulf ports. A House vote on a bill approving the pipeline is mirrored in a similar bill in the Senate. The bill is expected to face a veto by the President. The Senate is still short four votes for the “veto proof” majority of 67.
2. Senate Energy Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has signaled that she and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) want to move a comprehensive energy package forward this Congress. On the Democratic side, that will mean creating a bill favorable to renewable energy, modernizing the energy grid, and maintaining grants for energy research projects. Those interests must be weighed against the Republican controlled priorities of the committee, which include expanding onshore and offshore drilling, natural gas and crude exports, and more oversight over research programs. Should Congress and the Administration agree on energy exports, ASCE will be engaged in the discussion as shipping those products would have a significant impact on surrounding highway, rail, and port facilities.
3. Congress is likely to try to roll back recent carbon emissions regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK), one of the most visible anti-climate change members of Congress, will seek to be a barrier to any previous and future efforts to address this issue. We can also expect Republicans to also use the appropriations process to block EPA funding to implement some of their final rules.
1. One of the few pieces of major legislation to come out of last Congress was the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014. While there is certainly an oversight role for the new Congress to ensure programs authorized in WRRDA run smoothly, it’s likely the real focus will be on recent regulations proposed by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers on federal water jurisdiction.
2. Last year the EPA and Army Corps proposed new regulations defining “waters of the United States.” For years Industry had argued existing water guidance was confusing, prompting the agencies to propose new regulations in April, 2014. Almost immediately, the agencies faced criticism for going too far and extending federal their reach. Numerous members of Congress have called for EPA and the Army Corps to withdraw the rule. We can
expect to see attempts though policy riders on appropriations bills and other measures to stop the regulations from becoming final.
STEAM Education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math)
The 114th Congress will have to address the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. ESEA was passed in 1965 as a part of the "War on Poverty." ESEA emphasizes equal access to education and establishes high standards and accountability. The law authorizes federally funded education programs that are administered by the states. In 2002, Congress amended ESEA and reauthorized it as the “No Child Left Behind Act”. Efforts to reauthorize ESEA in the 112th and 113th Congresses made little progress. ASCE is a founding member of the Science-Technology-Education-Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition and will continue to work through the Coalition on reauthorization. The goal of the Coalition is to ensure that STEM education is a top priority in any revision to ESEA.
ASCE supports federal programs to mitigate the impact of natural and man-made hazards. Among the specific reauthorizations or enactments ASCE is supporting in Congress are:
1. The National Earthquakes Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRR) a 37-year old federal program which providing the resources and leadership leading to big advances in understanding earthquake risks and the best ways to counter them.
2. The National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program, similar for wind related hazards.
3. The Safe Building Code Incentive Act which seeks to create federal incentives to encourage states to voluntarily adopt and enforce nationally recognized model building codes for residential and commercial structures. Uniform statewide adoption and enforcement of model building codes mitigates the impact of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, fire, ice storms and other natural catastrophes.
For more info, contact Greg Scott, at Buchart-Horn, Inc., 412-261-5059, firstname.lastname@example.org
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