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Friday, July 17th, 2009
$33.3B Energy and Water Appropriations Bill Heads to House Floor

The New York Times/ Greenwire – The House will take up the $33.3 billion fiscal 2010 energy and water spending bill this week as Democratic leaders in that chamber push to complete all appropriations measures before the August break.

The bill (pdf) funds the Energy Department, Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and several independent agencies.

It supports increases in renewable energy, efficiency and science funding but also breaks with the Obama administration in some key areas. For instance, the bill does not go along with a DOE plan to end research into hydrogen vehicles and instead provides $40 million for the effort, and also greatly pares back a $280 million plan to create eight multidisciplinary “energy innovation hubs.”

The Rules Committee meets tomorrow afternoon, which means the bill would likely be on the floor the next day. Democrats are expected to allow debate on only a limited number of amendments. Lawmakers have submitted roughly 100 amendments to the Rules Committee, which will greatly pare down the list tomorrow.

Examples of amendments include Rep. Jeff Flake’s (R-Ariz.) ongoing effort to slash various earmarks; Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Joe Barton’s (R-Texas) proposal to reverse the decision to abandon the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump; and several amendments to cut funding for the overall bill or specific programs. [read more…]

Friday, July 17th, 2009
Washington State: Road officials trying to put stimulus cash to work

The Associated Press – State transportation officials on Tuesday defended their handling of federal stimulus money for road projects against criticism they haven’t moved quickly enough to turn the money into jobs and pavement.

Washington state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond acknowledged at a news conference there’s been criticism of how fast states are meeting goals set by President Barack Obama and Congress when the stimulus package was approved in February. That $787 billion package included $27.5 billion for highway and bridge construction and repair.

But Hammond said that nationwide, 2,000 construction projects funded by stimulus dollars are under way, worth more than $6 billion. In all, 5,600 projects worth an estimated $16.7 billion have been approved for bids, she said.

“Barrels and cones are on the road,” said Hammond, who was elected president of the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials at the group’s meeting Tuesday in Seattle.

The projects are “providing steady and sustained jobs, which are real family wage-earning jobs for workers in our country,” she said.

The money also is being stretched farther, Hammond said, because contractors desperate for work in the bad economy are submitting lower bids. In some cases, states are paying as much as 30 percent below engineers’ estimates of what projects should cost, she said.

Congressional Republicans have said Obama’s stimulus program does too little and comes too late to revive the economy, and will do more long-term damage by increasing government debt. Last week, they argued that transportation money in particular was slow to be spent. [read more]

Friday, July 17th, 2009
LaHood Defends Stimulus, Impact on Jobs

The Washington Post – Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today launched a vigorous defense of President Obama’s economic recovery plan, in the latest attempt by the administration to counter increasing Republican attacks over the effectiveness of the package.

LaHood described the $787 billion stimulus package as “the most sweeping, complex and ambitious domestic aid package we have enacted in generations” and said it already had helped states avoid major service cuts, tax hikes and widespread layoffs.

His speech at the Center for National Policy in Washington came just days after Arizona’s junior senator, Republican Jon Kyl, suggested the government should “cancel the rest of the stimulus spending.” Other Republican lawmakers have ramped up their criticism of the package, questioning how effective it has been in creating jobs or saving existing ones.

LaHood insisted that programs funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act had already created “thousands” of jobs, less than six months into its 18-month program.

“I have personally met with workers who would not be getting paid this week without stimulus-funded transportation jobs,” he said. “And because they are working, they can support their families, pay their bills and pump some dollars back into their local economy.”

Pennsylvania, LaHood said, gave a green light to more than 200 transportation infrastructure projects because of an additional billion dollars provided for highway and bridge construction projects. “In state after state, we’re seeing a meaningful impact on jobs,” he said. “The Maryland Department of Transportation has recalled all of its laid-off employees back to work. A private contractor in Massachusetts has brought back nearly its entire workforce — more than 300 people.” [read more…]

Friday, July 17th, 2009
Shippers and seaports urge Congress to move faster on transport reform

Logistics Management – The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a bill to extend the existing highway program for 18 months.

But that development fails to meet the urgent needs of U.S. shippers, said Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The Congress and Administration need to make America’s crumbling transportation infrastructure a priority,” he said.

The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) authorizes surface transportation spending for a six-year period and is scheduled to expire on September 30. To increase federal transportation dollars, the Chamber called on Congress to explore all funding options, including raising user fees, encouraging private investment, and creating an infrastructure bank. The Chamber also supports safeguarding money collected from gas taxes and other fees for transportation-specific projects as well as cutting red tape associated with those projects.

“The Administration and Congress included vital funds for transportation in the stimulus package, but the job isn’t done yet,” Donohue said.

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) meanwhile, has lauded specific language in a 90-page blueprint released by Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 would give priority status to freight and freight mobility as part of the federal surface transportation reauthorization legislation that would replace the SAFETEA-LU bill.

“Congressman Oberstar’s proposed bill addresses goods movement challenges in ways that would help alleviate freight congestion on America’s roads, rails and waterways, and that’s a crucial step in propelling the country’s long-term prosperity, security and environmental well-being,” said Kurt Nagle, AAPA’s president and CEO. “Seaports can play a critical role in our national economic recovery, but they need higher levels of federal investment in connecting infrastructure to create jobs, alleviate congestion and deliver prosperity. Language in this bill goes a long way toward achieving that goal.” [read more…]

Friday, July 17th, 2009
Recovery Act: States’ and Localities’ Current and Planned Uses of Funds While Facing Fiscal Stresses

United States Government Accountability Office – Across the United States, as of June 19, 2009, Treasury had outlayed about $29 billion of the estimated $49 billion in Recovery Act funds projected for use in states and localities in fiscal year 2009. More than 90 percent of the $29 billion in federal outlays has been provided through the increased Medicaid Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) and the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) administered by the Department of Education. GAO’s work focused on nine federal programs that are estimated to account for approximately 87 percent of federal Recovery Act outlays in fiscal year 2009 for programs administered by states and localities. Increased Medicaid FMAP Funding All 16 states and the District have drawn down increased Medicaid FMAP grant awards of just over $15 billion for October 1, 2008, through June 29, 2009, which amounted to almost 86 percent of funds available. Medicaid enrollment increased for most of the selected states and the District, and several states noted that the increased FMAP funds were critical in their efforts to maintain coverage at current levels. States and the District reported they are planning to use the increased federal funds to cover their increased Medicaid caseload and to maintain current benefits and eligibility levels. Due to the increased federal share of Medicaid funding, most state officials also said they would use freed-up state funds to help cope with fiscal stresses. Highway Infrastructure Investment As of June 25, DOT had obligated about $9.2 billion for almost 2,600 highway infrastructure and other eligible projects in the 16 states and the District and had reimbursed about $96.4 million. Across the nation, almost half of the obligations have been for pavement improvement projects because they did not require extensive environmental clearances, were quick to design, obligate and bid on, could employ people quickly, and could be completed within 3 years. State Fiscal Stabilization Fund As of June 30, 2009, of the 16 states and the District, only Texas had not submitted an SFSF application. Pennsylvania recently submitted an application but had not yet received funding. The remaining 14 states and the District had been awarded a total of about $17 billion in initial funding from Education–of which about $4.3 billion has been drawn down. School districts said that they would use SFSF funds to maintain current levels of education funding, particularly for retaining staff and current education programs. They also said that SFSF funds would help offset state budget cuts. Accountability States have implemented various internal control programs; however, federal Single Audit guidance and reporting does not fully address Recovery Act risk. The Single Audit reporting deadline is too late to provide audit results in time for the audited entity to take action on deficiencies noted in Recovery Act programs. Moreover, current guidance does not achieve the level of accountability needed to effectively respond to Recovery Act risks. Finally, state auditors need additional flexibility and funding to undertake the added Single Audit responsibilities under the Recovery Act. Impact Direct recipients of Recovery Act funds, including states and localities, are expected to report quarterly on a number of measures, including the use of funds and estimates of the number of jobs created and the number of jobs retained. The first of these reports is due in October 2009. OMB–in consultation with a broad range of stakeholders–issued additional implementing guidance for recipient reporting on June 22, 2009, that clarifies some requirements and establishes a central reporting framework. [read more…]

Friday, July 17th, 2009
U.S. Senate Committee OKs $20 billion for highway fund

Reuters – A key U.S. Senate committee approved on Wednesday President Barack Obama’s plan to move $20 billion into the federal account for highway construction and repairs.

The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee also voted to extend the current transportation law by 18 months. The law will expire on September 30, and the Department of Transportation has said the Highway Trust Fund will be empty by the end of August.

The full Senate must now vote on the measure.

There is no corresponding bill in the House of Representatives, reflecting both Democrats’ and Republicans’ opposition to Obama’s plan. House members prefer passing a new multi-year transportation bill.

But the Environment and Public Works Committee chairwoman, California’s Barbara Boxer, said an extension would give states certainty on funding for projects as Congress works on that bill, which includes a complete reform of how the country organizes its transportation programs.

Boxer said it would also give Congress time to find additional funding sources for highways.

Currently, an 18.4-cent tax levied on each gallon of gas sold in the United States supports the so-called Highway Trust Fund. In order to support the House’s plan, the federal government would have to double the gas tax, Boxer said, increasing the burden on drivers during a long recession.

“Let’s get real,” she said. [read more…]

Friday, July 17th, 2009
Chamber of Commerce Pushes Increase in Gas Tax

The Wall Street Journal – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that it will attempt to do what a string of economists and urban planners couldn’t: persuade lawmakers to raise the federal gasoline tax to pay for better roads.

The new push by the powerful business lobby, which includes a six-figure ad campaign, comes as Congress has begun debating how to pay for repairs to the nation’s highways, bridges and mass-transit systems. Boosting the 18.4-cent federal tax on a gallon of gasoline by roughly 10 cents a gallon would cover the growing funding gap while creating jobs and improving mobility, Chamber officials said Wednesday.

“Just damn do it,” Chamber President Thomas Donohue said Wednesday at a news briefing, at which he called on Congress not to delay action on a new highway bill as the Obama administration has proposed. Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee backed a plan to put off debate on new highway funding for 18 months, extending current funding levels until then.

A boost in highway spending could also be a boon for Chamber members like Caterpillar Inc., the heavy-equipment maker that has joined the lobbying campaign. [read more…]

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009
New York: Parts of Broadway to Close to Traffic

The New York Times – The city will begin converting part of Broadway into a major pedestrian thoroughfare this weekend, as stretches in Times Square and Herald Square are closed to vehicles. [read more…]

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009
National: US Can Cut Emissions 34% With Improvements to Building Efficiency

Sustainable Business/ Reuters – A comprehensive plan to make our nation’s buildings more efficient by 2030 could save enough energy to power all of our nation’s cars, homes and businesses for a year and a half while saving Americans more than $500 billion, according to a new report by Environment America.

By renovating old buildings and ensuring that new ones use 50% less energy within ten years and generate as much energy as they use by 2030, we can cut U.S. global warming emissions by at least 34% by 2050, the report states. [read more…]

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