October Washington update: Federal policy news

This is the latest edition of the Washington Update from Smart Growth America. The Washington Update is a typically policy-heavy newsletter covering federal policy developments here in Washington. If you want to know more about the details of policy and would like to receive this regularly via email, you can sign up for it (and others) here via the SGA website.

We will still offer regular opportunities to weigh in on important legislation, whether or not you choose to get knee deep into the details of policy.

– Stephen Davis
Communications Associate

Hearing schedule announced for Senate climate bill, markup expected in November

After some delay, hearings on the Senate climate bill introduced last month by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) are scheduled to begin the last week of October. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing the legislation, but its analysis is expected to be completed before the start of the hearings. A markup of the legislation is expected sometime in November, although a week of recess for Veterans Day and another week for Thanksgiving limit the amount of time available in the schedule.

The first hearing on the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S.1733) is scheduled for October 27 with a prominent panel appearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Witnesses at the first hearing will include Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, and Jon Wellinghoff, Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Hearings are expected to continue on October 28 and 29, but witnesses have not yet been announced.

There is still time to ensure that the bill includes significant funding for clean transportation options such as public transportation and passenger rail, affordable neighborhoods around transit stops, and neighborhood projects that increase safety for cyclists and pedestrians.

TAKE ACTION by calling or sending an email to your Senator today.

Another stopgap resolution likely before appropriations work complete; no agreement yet on Interior-EPA or transport-housing bills

Last month, Congress approved a one-month stopgap resolution (Continuing Resolution, or CR) to extend government funding at FY 2009 levels until the end of October.  House appropriators are beginning work on a second continuing resolution, as it looks increasingly unlikely that the twelve annual appropriations bills will be completed in the next two weeks. Details on the duration of another continuing resolution have yet to be released.

The FY 2010 Interior-Environment spending bill, which includes funding for the EPA Smart Growth Office and many other key programs is said to be at least a week away from a conference agreement.  An agreement on the FY 2010 Transportation-HUD spending bill is possibly further outha, as there are differences in various spending levels to be worked out, as well as a disputed effort to exempt Great Lakes shipping from proposed EPA rules regulating emissions from oceangoing ships that operate on the Great Lakes.

House committee examines high-speed rail challenges

Last week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee took a look at some of the challenges facing the development of a high-speed rail network.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included $8 billion for high-speed rail. In the FY 2010 budget request, the Obama Administration made it clear that high-speed rail is a priority for them by requesting a total of $5 billion in additional funding over the next five years. Although the initial $8 billion was to be distributed for shovel-ready projects, not a cent has been granted to date.

During the hearing several lawmakers spoke on the need for true high-speed rail of 110 miles per hour or more and not just improvement to speeds of 70-90 miles per hour.  Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo cautioned that a complete network of high-speed rail includes service of varying speeds, not just trains going 200 mph.  Szabo explained that the FRA received requests for more than $50 billion in funding for long-term projects and about $7 billion in shovel-ready and planning projects.  Rather than rush to distribute quickly, the agency has chosen to spend more time evaluating how the money can best be spent. For this reason, funding will not be granted until next year and it is unlikely that the money will be limited to shovel-ready projects.

EPA releases the Clean Water Action Enforcement Plan,  Administrator testifies before House committee

On Thursday, EPA Administrator appeared before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to discuss the release of the Clean Water Action Enforcement Plan, which details how the agency plans to improve enforcement of clean water laws.   According to Jackson’s testimony, the three main goals of the report are to target enforcement to the most important water pollution problems, strengthen oversight of the states, and improve transparency and accountability.

A recent investigation found that a miniscule amount of Clean Water Act violators are punished by the states and that the EPA frequently chooses not to force states to comply or prosecute offenders.  Overall, the largest reason cited for EPA’s enforcement failure is poor coordination and a lack of data about inconsistencies.

Representative Blumenauer announces Livable Communities Task Force, adding Congressional component to Administration initiative.

Congressman Blumenauer in partnership with the House Democratic Caucus announced the launch of the Livable Communities Task Force.  The task force will promote policies and legislation to make the federal government a strong supporter of local efforts to link transportation, housing and land use strategies to create sustainable, livable communities. Congressman Blumenauer described the work of the Task Force in a statement released today: “With a diverse group of members from around the country, this new Democratic Task Force will play a vital role in coordinating with the administration to improve the quality of life for millions of Americans in communities big and small, urban and rural.” More information can be found on the LCTF website.

Current Livable Communities Task Force Members: Earl Blumenauer (OR), Sam Farr (CA), Rush Holt (NJ), Doris Matsui (A), Jim McDermott (WA), Richard Neal (MA), Tim Ryan (OH), Allyson Schwartz (PA), Dina Titus (NV), Paul Tonko (NY), Peter Welch (VT), George Miller (CA), Martin Heinrich (NM), Lois Capps (CA), Andre Carson (IN), Hank Johnson (GA), Albio Sires (NJ), John Olver (MA), Russ Carnahan (MO).