The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee advanced by voice vote a $500 billion surface transportation reauthorization known as the Invest in America Act (H.R. 2) late June 18 after a marathon markup that lasted two days.
The INVEST in America Act was approved the same day that House Democrats introduced a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, the Moving Forward Act, which they described as the biggest legislative effort to fight climate change. The $500 billion INVEST Act now advances to the full House and is expected to represent the largest component of the Moving Forward Act. The House plans to vote on Moving Forward before the July 4 recess.
Ultimately, any legislation passed in the House would need to be conferenced with Senate legislation. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed its surface transportation bill last summer, but that bill has not yet been voted on by the full Senate.
The T&I Committee markup of the INVEST Act, which included consideration of 177 amendments, was at times a tense affair fraught with bipartisan frustrations and technological challenges as the committee navigated its first virtual markup.
Republicans repeatedly reiterated frustrations that they were excluded from the drafting process and said this highway bill did not represent a bipartisan effort. The markup closed at nearly 11 p.m. with Ranking Member Sam Graves, R-MO., addressing members on the importance of the Transportation Committee’s work.
In his closing remarks, Rep. Graves said, “Although this is the first time in my 20 years serving on the Committee that I had to vote against a surface transportation bill, I hope we get back to working on bipartisan bills that help our country’s infrastructure.”
House Republicans this morning introduced their own version of a highway bill, The Surface Transportation Advanced through Reform, Technology & Efficient Review (STARTER) Act. The legislation had been introduced as an amendment during the two-day markup of the INVEST Act.
At a high level, H.R. 2 would provide $319 billion for the federal-aid highway program at the Federal Highway Administration. The Federal Transit Administration would receive $105 billion and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would get $5.3 billion.
As the authorizing committee, the T&I Committee measure focuses exclusively on highway policy and does not outline how to fund the infrastructure package. It’s now up to the House Ways and Means Committee to determine how an infrastructure package would be paid for.
Notably, H.R. 2 would make it more difficult for states to toll existing Interstate Highways. It would eliminate all existing authority, including various pilot programs and bridge and tunnel exemptions, and replace it with new streamlined tolling authority that allows states to install tolls on new capacity. This is already permitted under current law. The bill also places more limits on tolling non-Interstate highways on the National Highway System than currently exist.
Although NATSO initially was encouraged when the base text of INVEST was introduced, the association ultimately opposed the bill after a provision adopted in the Manager’s Amendment permitted electric vehicle charging at rest areas. This essentially carves out an exception for electric vehicle charging to the longstanding federal law prohibiting the sale of fuel, food and other services at rest areas.
The INVEST Act also includes a provision in Section 1303 that would allow investor-owned utilities to “double-dip” and receive federal grants even if they have already raised rates on all of their customers to underwrite electric vehicle charging infrastructure investments.
NATSO supports efforts to develop an alternative fuel corridor grant program and expand the adoption of alternative fuels, including electric vehicle charging. However as currently written, the House policies stand to discourage private sector investment in electric vehicle charging, and stifle the market’s transition to electric vehicles. NATSO supports the Senate approach, which creates a regulatory framework that is far more compatible with increasing investment in EV charging infrastructure than the INVEST Act. The Senate EPW bill included grants for EV charging infrastructure along highway corridors similar to the INVEST Act, but does not commercialize rest areas or encourage utilities to double-dip.
Due to the inclusion of these policies, NATSO, along with the National Association of Convenience Stores and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America, announced their opposition to the Invest Act as these provisions will discourage the private sector’s investment in electric vehicle charging.
This represents the first time in NATSO’s 60-year history that the association has opposed a highway bill.
NATSO commends Representative Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, who during the markup encouraged the Committee to revisit electric vehicle charging at rest areas stating that it would harm existing businesses. (An Amendment to allow EV charging at rest areas originally was introduced by Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) and later inserted into the Manager’s Amendment).
The INVEST Act also establishes a grant program for state Departments of Transportations to use to enhance truck parking capacity. The Committee accepted an amendment introduced by Rep. Bost (R-Ill.) that would prohibit charging fees.
The Owner Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) announced that it opposed the bill after Members approved an amendment from Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-Ill.) that would increase the minimum amount of liability insurance commercial motor vehicles are required to maintain to $2 million from $750,000. OOIDA called the Garcia Amendment a “poison pill” that forced the association to oppose a bill it would otherwise support.
Although the INVEST Act now moves to the full House, it is expected to be incorporated in the Moving Forward Act, legislation that is far broader than a traditional highway bill. The Moving Forward Act includes $25 billion for drinking water, $100 billion for broadband, $70 billion for clean energy projects, $100 billion for low income schools, $30 billion to upgrade hospitals, $100 billion for public housing and $25 billion for the postal service.
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