Senate EPW Committee Passes Surface Transportation Bill

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved 21-0 a substitute amendment to its surface transportation bill S. 2302, “America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019,” marking the first step in reauthorizing the surface transportation law set to expire in 2020.
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The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved 21-0 a substitute amendment to its surface transportation bill S. 2302, “America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019,” marking the first step in reauthorizing the surface transportation law set to expire in 2020.

The measure would authorize $287 billion over five years, with 90 percent of funds allocated to states through formula funding.

The Committee also approved S. 1992, which would amend the FAST Act to repeal a $7.6 billion rescission in federal-aid Highway Program contract authority set to go into effect in mid-2020.

Of importance to NATSO members, S.2302 would not lift the federal prohibitions on tolling existing interstates or commercializing rest areas to fund infrastructure projects. The bill would, however, authorize $12.5 million per year to fund state and regional pilot programs to test "user-based alternative revenue mechanisms" (such as a vehicle miles tax) to motor fuels taxes.

The Senate Finance Committee, which is responsible for finding a way to pay for the measure, will now need to add its Title before the bill can go before the full Senate. Additional committees also will need to add sections on transit and safety, among others.

Among its provisions, S. 2302 features a first-ever Title on climate change. The bill would authorize $10.8 billion over five years for addressing climate issues. This includes establishing a grant program funded at $1 billion over five years for states and localities to build alternative fuel corridors, including electric vehicle charging infrastructure and natural gas refueling stations along designated highway corridors.

NATSO worked diligently to ensure that its members will have maximum access to the alternative fuel infrastructure grant money and that there will be no refueling stations at rest areas.

Prior to the Committee markup, NATSO urged EPW to pass the bill saying the industry is supportive of the Committee’s effort to establish a grant program that would stimulate private investment in electric vehicle charging and natural gas refueling stations along designated highway corridors. NATSO said it hoped that policymakers will steer grants toward projects where private capital is being placed at risk rather than toward public utilities that inappropriately use their monopolistic stature to crowd out private investment in EV charging infrastructure.

During the markup, Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) stated that the alternative fuel infrastructure program neglected to include a number of popular alternative fuels, such as E15, E85, and propane infrastructure among others.

Specifically, Senator Ernst encouraged lawmakers to consider including E15 and E85 or do away with the grant program entirely. Senator Rounds recommended keeping the grant program but called for an “all of the above” approach that would incorporate additional fuels. Senator Rounds said that gas-powered vehicles will remain the primary vehicle of the traveling public through 2050 and that all biofuels should be used to offset emissions.

Neither Senator requested a vote on amendments to the alternative fuel infrastructure grants, but urged lawmakers to improve the grant program before the bill goes to the Senator floor.

The final bill also included five amendments, including one by Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) directing the Federal Highway Administration to coordinate a study of the potential impacts of autonomous vehicles.

The EPW Committee also voted to repeal a legislatively required rescission of highway funding set to take effect in 2020. The FAST Act contained a provision that would rescind $7.6 billion in federal-aid Highway Program contract authority on July 1, 2020. If the rescission takes effect, it would reduce the baseline level of funding budgeted for the reauthorization, making new funding more difficult to include in future budgets.

The American Highway Users Alliance, of which NATSO is a member, has said the rescission repeal must be enacted before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, 2019, and is urging lawmakers to consider it on a separate must-pass piece of legislation.

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