The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) unanimously approved a $303.5 billion five-year surface transportation bill, which would increase infrastructure funding by about 34 percent over the FAST Act . The committee also adopted a manager’s package of amendments to the underlying bill. That list of amendments has not yet been released, though about 90 had been filed as of Wednesday morning.
NATSO has been closely engaged with lawmakers and staff on this legislation. This legislation is not intended to be an answer to the Biden Administration's wide-ranging, $2.2 trillion infrastructure proposal, which included spending on clean energy, electric transmission, drinking water infrastructure, broadband, child care, and more.
EPW’s “Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021” does not include any language expanding tolling or scaling back the prohibition on commercial activities at Interstate rest areas.
STRA includes $500 million per year for five years for electric vehicle charging and other alternative fuel infrastructure (including hydrogen, natural gas and propane). NATSO has long urged lawmakers to ensure that grant recipients, which will generally be state and local governments, are obligated to contract with a private entity to implement the grant, rather than the government owning and operating the refueling infrastructure. This was included in the Senate bill.
However, the Senate bill does not include sufficient guardrails to ensure that electric utilities cannot "double-dip" by accessing federal grant funds on top of ratepayer dollars to own and operate EV charging stations. NATSO has encouraged Congress to prioritize grant applications where private money is being placed at risk over applications where the applicant will be operating in a guaranteed rate of return environment.
The Senate bill does not include a funding mechanism (e.g., fuel tax hike, VMT tax, etc.), which are outside the EPW Committee's jurisdiction. A top Republican senator recently suggested that a truck-only VMT tax may ultimately be the right approach. The trucking industry would aggressively oppose such efforts.
The House will consider its own highway reauthorization bill in mid-late June. That legislation will be far more partisan, and could include a carve-out for EV charging stations at rest areas and making it "optional" for state and local governments to work with private entities to implement, own and operate alternative fuel infrastructure.
Talks between the White House and Republican senators led by Senate Environment and Public Works Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito are continuing, though the two sides remain far apart. The Biden Administration in recent days lowered its top-line number for an infrastructure package from $2.2 trillion to $1.7 trillion. This does not appear to be winning Senate GOP support, both because of cost and a core disagreement over what the concept of "infrastructure" should encompass.
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins reflected the views of many of her GOP colleagues when she said recently that only "roads, bridges, seaports, and airports, and broadband" should be included in a bill, and not "social programs." Republicans are also far less comfortable with climate policy being embedded in infrastructure legislation.
The pathway forward for either the House or Senate highway bills remains murky. If the Biden Administration cannot reach agreement with Republicans on a broader infrastructure package, Congressional Democrats will likely need to pivot to a more partisan approach through "reconciliation." This would entail parliamentary impediments that would prevent a number of policies from being included. At the same time, Democrats would likely try to include corporate, and potentially individual, tax hikes as part of that package.
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