2020 ended with President Trump signing the $900 billion stimulus bill into law, avoiding a government shut down and extending aid to businesses and households. The bill, which marked the culmination of months of tense negotiations, included $600 stimulus checks per person and extended unemployment benefits of up to $300 per week through at least March 14. More than $284 billion was allocated for first and second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans. Not included in the bill was liability protection to ensure that essential businesses cannot be sued by employees. NATSO will continue to advocate for liability protection in 2021.
Managing the coronavirus pandemic and vaccine distribution are bound to remain the top priorities for President-elect Biden when he takes his oath of office on January 20. But Biden’s Administration is also expected to focus heavily on several issues that are of top priority to NATSO and the truckstop and travel plaza industry.
President-elect Biden campaigned in 2020 on the promise of a bipartisan infrastructure bill and an aggressive strategy to deal with climate change. The new Administration undoubtedly will focus on those issues in 2021 – with an eye toward putting Americans back to work and revitalizing the U.S. economy after jobs and businesses took catastrophic hits amid the pandemic.
Here’s a look at why these issues matters for NATSO’s members and what we’re focusing on this year.
WHY IT MATTERS FOR NATSO
NATSO’s top policy issues continue to become less siloed as transportation, fuel and environmental issues overlap and policymakers consider all three issues in conjunction with one another.
With respect to fuel policy, NATSO will continue to work with policymakers to ensure that off-highway fuel retailers can utilize incentive programs to incorporate alternative fuels into their fuel supply, all while competing on a level playing field with other industry stakeholders. Specifically, NATSO will encourage policymakers to structure alternative fuel incentives in a market-oriented, consumer-focused manner that makes alternative fuels less expensive, and thus cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels.
With respect to transportation policy, NATSO will continue its long-standing efforts to preserve federal restrictions on commercial activities at Interstate rest areas and oppose tolling on existing interstates. NATSO will also advocate for the need to increase revenues into the Highway Trust Fund to ensure certainty for the nation’s future transportation needs.
As President, Joe Biden will seek to fulfill campaign promises to decarbonize the electric grid in 15 years, promote electric vehicles and restrict oil development on federal land, among other climate-focused initiatives.
President-elect Biden has already begun to assemble the team he will rely on to drive his ambitious clean-energy and climate agenda.
There remains a large divide between Democrats and Republicans on climate change, however, which means Biden may lean heavily on regulations and executive orders to achieve some of his goals.
NATSO seeks to ensure that fuel retailers have a diverse array of fuel supply options to choose from, and that legislative and regulatory policies make it economical for them to buy biodiesel, renewable diesel, and other alternative fuels and incorporate those into the fuel supply.
NATSO thinks that the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), while imperfect, offers a helpful structure that can be built upon to provide more robust alternative fuel incentives. As part of this effort, NATSO will encourage the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reject pending RFS waiver and exemption requests and encourage the agency to responsibly increase the mandate for advanced biofuels.
President-elect Biden’s team is also expected to aggressively support electric vehicle charging incentives. NATSO will continue its ongoing collaboration with EV charging equipment and software vendor ChargePoint to advocate for policies that harness the private sector rather than government- and quasi-government entities (such as regulated utilities). NATSO and ChargePoint will also continue to leverage public and private capital to provide EV charging infrastructure at strategic locations, connecting existing Federal Highway Administration-designated alternative fuel corridors with a goal of creating a nationwide network of charging stations.
NATSO and ChargePoint in February 2020 launched the National Highway Charging Collaborative, a partnership to leverage $1 billion in capital to deploy charging at more than 4,000 travel plazas and fuel stops that serve highway travelers in rural communities. NATSO members in many states, including California, Iowa, Wisconsin and Washington, installed EV charging stations as a part of this collaboration.
President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team already has begun laying the groundwork for a bipartisan infrastructure deal during his first term. Infrastructure is viewed as the best possible driver for more economic and job relief as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.
President-elect Biden in December announced Pete Buttigieg would lead the U.S. Transportation Department. In making the announcement, Biden said, “We selected Pete for Transportation because the department is at the intersection of some of our most ambitious plans to build back better.”
Some have criticized his choice of Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, for the position, arguing that he is not yet experienced enough to lead an agency with a $90 billion budget. NATSO views the appointment of Mr. Buttigieg favorably; Mr. Buttigieg has a history of advocating for moderate, pragmatic policies that recognize the important role the private sector plays in transportation and infrastructure policy. Additionally, as a former Mayor, Mr. Buttigieg will hopefully understand the affects that DOT and infrastructure policies have on the local communities within which our member companies operate. It is these communities that often pay the price for unwise tolling and rest area commercialization policies.
Undoubtedly in 2021, groups like NATSO that advocate on both transportation and fuels issues will continue to see those two issues converge as transportation and climate change marry in any upcoming highway reauthorization package.
During his campaign, President-elect Biden called for building infrastructure, rebuilding roads and installing charging for electric vehicles. But issues of funding and politics continue to pose the age-old problems for passage of any reauthorization bill. Current surface transportation law is set to expire in September 2021 following a one-year extension passed by Congress in fall of 2020. This coupled with the fact that infrastructure bills are historically viewed as bipartisan legislation makes it highly likely that Congress will take up surface transportation legislation this year.
Rest Area Commercialization:
NATSO will continue to push lawmakers to pass a long-term highway bill that improves the nation’s roads and bridges. NATSO continues to call for an increase in the federal motor fuels taxes as long-standing concerns about insufficient revenues in the Highway Trust Fund are exacerbated by drops in revenues as fewer motorists take to the road during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Such revenue declines could lead states to consider harmful revenue schemes such as commercializing rest areas and tolling.
State Departments of Transportation seeking to expand their electric vehicle charging infrastructure continue to eye state-operated rest areas as a potential location for such infrastructure. Current federal law prohibits the sale of food or fuel, including electricity, at rest areas located directly on the Interstate right-of-way.
NATSO strongly opposes the installation of electric car charging stations at rest areas and thinks states should work with existing exit-based businesses to install electric car charging stations at private businesses.
The House of Representatives passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan in July 2020 that NATSO opposed after it contained provisions that would carve out an exception for EV charging to the longstanding federal law prohibiting the sale of fuel, food and other services at rest areas and allow electric utilities to receive federal grants for EV charging infrastructure even after they raised rates on customers. The ban on commercial activities at Interstate rest areas has been essential to incentivizing businesses to invest in fuel stations just off of America's highways for as long as the Interstate system has existed.
The House Moving Forward Act reflects a short-sighted desire to build charging infrastructure as rapidly as possible without regard for the long-term implications for EV charging availability and undermines the legislation’s environmental objectives. The House plan was never taken up by the Senate.
NATSO supported the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s highway reauthorization bill, 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.
State Departments of Transportation continue to experience dramatic revenue losses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. These losses stand to incentivize federal lawmakers to act sooner rather than later on surface transportation law to ensure that state DOTs have federal program funds for infrastructure projects.
But while Congress lays out a major infrastructure package, cash-strapped states will be more inclined to look for ways to generate transportation revenues, including from harmful funding schemes such as tolling. Pennsylvania became the most recent state to target tolls, announcing in late November 2020 that it won approval to consider charging tolls on major bridges to fund repairs or replacement and use leftover money for other transportation projects.
NATSO will continue to push for Congress to maintain the long-standing prohibition against tolls on existing Interstate highways.
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