House Committees Tackle Highway Reauthorization Bill

PMAA and coalition members were successful in including a wetlines study, following concerns with DOT’s proposed wetlines rule.

Today, Feb. 2, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is holding a markup on its recently released highway reauthorization bill known as the “American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act” (H.R. 7).

The five-year $260 billion surface transportation bill would be paid by tapping royalties from oil and gas drilling on public lands and federal waters and would cut some transportation programs to pay for the reauthorization. However, oil and gas drilling is a contentious congressional issue and may not make it into the final bill when the House and Senate reconcile differences. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected this week that the trust fund would be insolvent by 2013 assuming current spending levels.

On Friday, the House Ways and Means Committee will mark up their portion of the Highway reauthorization bill, which includes the 18.3 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax, the 24.4 cents-per-gallon diesel tax and the .001 cents-per-gallon leaking underground storage tank tax. It is likely that the motor fuels excise tax and the LUST tax will remain the same and would be reauthorized for the next five years.

Wetlines
PMAA and a few coalition members were successful in including a wetlines study and cost benefit analysis, which would require the Secretary of Transportation to coordinate with an independent non-partisan organization before DOT’s proposed wetlines rule can be finalized.

Late last year, PMAA and coalition members met with House Transportation Committee members expressing our concerns with DOT’s proposed wetlines rule and urged committee members to include language in the Highway reauthorization bill that would require an independent study on wetlines including a cost benefit analysis. PMAA argued that the DOT failed to justify the need for wetlines retrofit because DOT used incorrect incident data, which resulted in a seriously flawed regulatory cost benefit analysis. Although this is good news for petroleum marketers, the fight is not over. The House will need to reconcile differences with the Senate, and there is no guarantee that the highway reauthorization bill will be signed into law this year.

Commercialization of Rest Areas
PMAA also continues to urge Congress to oppose any attempt to commercialize rest stops. There is some language in H.R. 7 that would allow expanded tourism advertising, ATM placements, lottery machine access and corporate sponsorships at rest areas. PMAA is working with the Partnership to Save Highway Communities to tighten the rest area language.

Hours-of-Service
Included in H.R. 7 is a section, which would require an Hours-of-Service (HOS) study to be completed by March 31, 2013. Until the study is completed, the 2008 HOS rule would remain in effect which would void the recent HOS rule from Dec. 27, 2011 that requires a 30 minute break period for drivers, restricts and limits the 34-hour restart provision, and imposes new fines for violations.

Truck Weight Limits
H.R. 7 includes a provision that would increase the weight of trucks allowed on interstate highways from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds. PMAA supports this provision, which would essentially eliminate an inequitable government regulation permitting six-axle trucks weighing up to 97,000 pounds to travel on some states’ interstate highways and not others.

In 27 states, trucks up to 100,000 pounds can travel on interstate highways, but in some states, trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds must either unload cargo or travel to through secondary roads across small towns. This section is contentious among the railroad and traffic safety advocates who argue that the increase in truck weight limits would increase chances of collisions.

Meanwhile in the Senate, its highway reauthorization bill would reauthorize programs for two years and totals $109 billion. Portions of the Senate version will be marked up tomorrow by the Banking Committee while the Senate Finance Committee is tasked with finding at least $13 billion to close the funding gap between the bill’s cost and the projected revenue from motor fuels excise taxes. A Finance Committee bill markup date has yet to be set. One of the proposals to close the funding gap includes a transfer of $3 billion from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Trust Fund to help finance the highway infrastructure bill. While PMAA agrees that Congress needs to fund a long-term extension of highway infrastructure programs, PMAA adamantly opposes any proposal to remove vital funds, which support important UST related programs.

Last month, PMAA wrote to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), urging him to find other ways to pay for the highway bill without raiding the LUST fund. PMAA argues that the LUST Fund should be used solely to support UST leak prevention and remediation programs. The transfer of $3 billion from the fund would cripple important programs and ultimately harm marketing companies who have paid the tax and built the fund over the past 25 years.

PMAA continues to review and analyze the proposed bills and will have more to report in this week’s Weekly Review.

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