The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing on February 26 examining how federal infrastructure policy can help mitigate and adapt to climate change. The hearing was another of several hearings the Committee has held in the opening weeks of 2019, all designed to lay the foundation for a comprehensive infrastructure bill that House Democrats hope to pass by the end of May.
At the hearing, the Committee heard primarily from academics and other "think tank" type organizations about how infrastructure policy can be tailored to mitigate the negative effects of climate change. Much of the focus with respect to surface transportation was on enhancing incentives for electric vehicles. Several members of Congress in both parties focused their questions on natural gas incentives and the viability of that alternative fuel as well.
At a high level, one unavoidable takeaway from the hearing was that, although transportation and infrastructure investment is a bipartisan issue, once lawmakers begin scratching beneath the surface, it is clear that there is real disagreement between the parties as to what infrastructure policy should prioritize. While all Democrats on the Committee seem to accept climate change as a factual, clear and present danger, several Republicans questioned whether federal government action was necessary. "We don't need sweeping mandates that ignore economic reality," said the Committee's top ranking Republican Sam Graves (R-MO)."
The Committee's Democratic staff indicated in a white paper shared with lawmakers before the hearing that Democrats have three overarching climate change priorities: (1) Improve fuel efficiency standards; (2) Shift from fossil fuels to electricity and other sources; and (3) Reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled.
Although the issue of rest area commercialization did not come up during the hearing itself, one witness -- Vicki Arroyo of the Georgetown Climate Center -- supported placing electric vehicle charging infrastructure at rest areas in her written testimony.
Specifically, Ms. Arroyo wrote: "Congress might also consider the feasibility and potential benefits and costs of exempting EV charging stations and renewable power installations from federal restrictions on commercial activity in the interstate right-of-way. These restrictions have been identified as a barrier...."
Given Democrats' support for electric vehicles, such policy proposals represent legitimate concerns for the travel center industry.
The Committee intends to hold several more hearings in the coming months before marking up legislation in early May, with the plan being to move that legislation out of the House and send it to the Senate by the end of May. NATSO is holding it's Day on Capitol Hill on May 14-16 this year, which may occur in the middle of intense infrastructure policy deliberations in Congress. All NATSO members are urged to register for Day on the Hill today so you can meet with lawmakers and ensure our industry's perspective is heard as Congress continues pursuing much-needed infrastructure investment.
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