House Links Highway Funding to New Oil and Gas Revenues


Boehner said drilling offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as well as expanded oil shale development, would provide a new revenue stream to the Highway Trust Fund

By Oliver B. Patton, Washington Editor

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, yesterday made it official that the House will link funding for transportation reauthorization to the extraction of oil and natural gas from areas now closed to drilling.

Boehner said drilling offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as well as expanded oil shale development, would provide a new revenue stream to the Highway Trust Fund for infrastructure repair and improvement, although he did not specify how that revenue stream would be tapped.

The addition of the extra revenue would move the House toward its new goal of continuing the highway program at current funding levels, rather than its former plan to scale the program back by almost a third to match the revenue that is available from the Highway Trust Fund.

The bill, the American Energy Infrastructure Jobs Act, would run for a five-year term, rather than the traditional six years.

The policies in the measure reflect the work that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has been doing on its version of the reauthorization bill.

It would consolidate Transportation Department programs, streamline the project delivery process, give states more control over the “transportation enhancement” portions of their federal funds and promote public-private financing projects. It also would eliminate earmarks.

Details of the safety title of the measure are not yet available, but an earlier outline indicated that Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration programs would be preserved.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House TI Committee, said in a statement that he hopes to mark up the bill (when the committee debates and amends a bill before sending it to the full House) “in coming weeks.”

Meanwhile, the Senate has a bill by the Environment and Public Works Committee that would reauthorize the federal highway program at current funding levels for two years.

Funding for this measure has not yet been found. The bill calls for $109 billion over the two years, which would keep spending at current levels plus inflation, but the funding that will be available from the Highway Trust Fund falls about $12 billion below that.

The EPW Committee is counting on one of its key members, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who also chairs the Senate Finance Committee, to find the $12 billion.

“We will, one way or another, by hook or crook, find the resources on a bipartisan basis to pay for this bill,” Baucus said recently.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking Republican on the committee, made it clear that if the money cannot be found, the bill will not move forward.

“Everything we’re doing today is predicated on finding an additional $12 billion,” he said. “(The bill) is not going anywhere outside of this committee until we find that funding. In the event that doesn’t happen, it’s back to the drawing board.”

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