Climate bill to be released within weeks: Washington Update

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Senate Lawmakers Working on New Climate and Energy Bill

After months of meetings with congressional members, stakeholders and industry leaders, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) have decided to wait to release their climate and energy bill for a few more weeks to ensure they have broad support for the proposal. Senator Kerry has indicated that the bill could be introduced the week of April 19, although any concrete timeline for its passage remains uncertain.

The legislation is expected to include a goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 17 percent below 2005 by 2020. In a departure from the nationwide cap-and-trade plans in the most recent climate bills, this legislation would use industry-specific carbon pricing to limit carbon pollution, as well as energy-related provisions to increase the use of clean energy and decrease our dependence on foreign oil. Last week Senator Kerry spoke briefly about the “reduction and refund” provision for the electric utility sector. This provision states that power companies would be subject to an overall cap on carbon emissions and would have to buy government-issued permits to pollute. But under the new model, the revenue would be returned to consumers as a rebate on their electric bills.

The possibility of getting any large amount of money dedicated solely to transportation will require continued strong advocacy efforts.

Senator Graham has expressed hesitancy about allowing revenue from a fee on the carbon content of fuels to be used to support the Highway Trust Fund, preferring instead to see the money go back directly to consumers or be spent towards debt reduction. Smart Growth America continues to work with Senator Carper and the other CLEAN-TEA co-sponsors to ensure that any revenue generated from fuels go toward green transportation projects.

Our Senate champions sent a letter to Senators Graham, Kerry, Lieberman to support the inclusion of funding for clean transportation investment in the bill and Smart Growth America joined a letter organized by Transportation For America (pdf) pushing for including the strong policy language from CLEAN-TEA in the bill to ensure that transportation investments reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide the necessary funding to support those investments. It makes little sense for a climate bill to tax polluting fuels and then turn around and spend the money on things that enable the burning of more fuel.

Make sure your Senator shows support for investing climate funds into green transportation projects that can reduce emissions and fuel consumption. Ask them to co-sponsor CLEAN-TEA.

Continuing to build support for CLEAN-TEA will help make the strong case that the billions possibly generated by a carbon tax on fuel should go toward strategies that reduce our vehicle miles traveled and clean up the transportation sector.

FY 2011 Budget Resolution Top Priority for April

After being sidelined by the healthcare overhaul debate, work on the FY 2011 budget resolution is expected to begin when Congress returns from their spring recess. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) has indicated that the budget resolution is a top priority for congress and he expects it to clear the house in April. Appropriations committees have already begun work on the twelve individual spending bills and markups are expected to start at the subcommittee level in late May or early June.

Both House and Senate appropriations committees began holding hearings shortly after the Administration released their budget request for FY 2011. Secretaries from the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as Administrators from the Federal Transit Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, and Amtrak have appeared to testify on their budget requests. In general, the tone of these hearings has been positive. Support exists in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle for increased infrastructure spending and the need for investment in all modes of transportation. Disagreements have generally been focused on where and how quickly investments are made. There is also some contention over DOT’s livability programs, which are seen by some members as taking money from the Highway Trust Fund at a time when it is already struggling. For HUD, concerns have focused on the amount of programs included in this year’s budget request that will require separate legislation to enact and are therefore heavily contingent upon activity in other committees.

Smart Growth America will continue to work with our partners to support and defend the livability programs within the President’s budget as the appropriations process moves forward.

SGA Budget Analysis from last update.

Senate EPW Committee Holds Four Hearings on Transportation

Over the month of March, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a series of four hearings on transportation in preparation for work on a six-year authorization bill. At the completion of the series, it was clear that the committee is prepared to move forward on a bill this year. New funding sources remain to be identified, but innovative financing options, as well as programs that create competition and provide opportunities for multimodal investment are likely to be included.The first hearing covered the importance of transportation investment to the national economy and the creation of jobs. During this hearing, Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) addressed the fact that SAFETEA-LU did not provide enough funding to maintain existing infrastructure and that the next bill will need to include much more if new investments are to be made. The committee and witnesses also began to discuss financing options, which were considered more heavily in the next hearing.

The second hearing took a look at the role of federal, state and local partnerships in augmenting transportation investment. Many different funding programs and financing tools were discussed, including a gas tax increase, TIFIA, state infrastructure banks, GARVEE bonds, Build America Bonds and innovative repayment terms. It is worth noting that beyond a gas tax increase, all other suggestions thus far would only leverage existing funding but would not create any new sources.

During the third hearing on mobility and congestion in urban and rural areas, the committee expressed support for targeted initiatives to address the needs of rural America. Mayor John Robert Smith, President of Reconnecting America and T4America co-chair, testified on how transportation investments spurred revitalization in his hometown of Meridian, MS. In the final hearing, on opportunities to improve energy security and the environment through transportation policy, Senator Boxer said that her two priorities for the next transportation authorization are cleaner air and the freer movement of goods. She also expressed her support for the TIGER grant program and the inclusion of a similar program in the legislation.

Legislation Introduced to Curtail the Loss of Affordable Housing

House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank has introduced the Housing Preservation and Tenant Protection Act (HR 4868) aimed at protecting affordable rental housing. Introduced as a response to a Government Accountability Office report that predicted 193,000 subsidized housing units will move to market rate over the next 10 years, this legislation will provide resources and incentives for owners to maintain affordable housing units. The possible inclusion of preservation provisions or location efficiency standards for the placement of new affordable housing units would best serve smart growth policies.

A hearing on the legislation was held recently in the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity. Members expressed general bipartisan support, although some Democrats were critical of the bill, claiming it doesn’t go far enough and expressing concern for the tenant-protection aspect. In her testimony, Carol Galante, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Multifamily Housing at HUD offered praise and said that the Administration “supports the fundamental principles of the bill.” A manager’s amendment is expected to be offered when the bill is marked up in full committee.