Energy and Commerce Committee Leaders Express Support for Jobs and Energy Security in Transportation Conference

May 8, 2012

Opening Statement of Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), House and Senate Transportation Conference

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

I appreciate the opportunity to give a statement and to be a part of this conference committee. Infrastructure is important to jobs, it’s important to national security, and it’s a real opportunity for us to get something done. Back in January, President Obama said his New Year’s resolution was “to do whatever it takes to move the economy forward … “ I believe this conference is an opportunity to do just that. To be successful, we need real reforms to our highway programs that will make the most efficient and effective use of the taxpayer’s dollar, and we need to seize the opportunity to do something good for our energy security, which is so essential to economic growth.

As a negotiator from the Energy and Commerce Committee, provisions within our purview include the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program under the Clean Air Act and vehicle safety overseen by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. On vehicle safety, I will be particularly focused on making sure NHTSA has a clear focus and the ability to prioritize safety, as it always has. As with any policy, overly prescriptive mandates have the potential to cloud the agency’s focus and divert it from existing priorities.

I’m also very supportive of the House language ensuring dollars from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund go toward their intended purpose of maintaining harbors. Maintaining our commercial and recreational harbors is also essential to local growth, infrastructure development, and countless jobs in southwest Michigan. The Great Lakes are not only my home state’s most treasured natural resource, but also one of our strongest economic assets. The livelihood of thousands of Michigan families and businesses depend on our harbors and deserve the certainty of knowing that these gateways of opportunity will remain open for business.

Other important matters in the House-passed bill include a path for expedited approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and a state-based regulatory framework for the safe management, re-use, and disposal of coal ash. While the connection between these items and a transportation and infrastructure package might not seem obvious, in fact, these policies make perfect sense in the context of this package.

Coal ash is a widely used component in construction materials including concrete, so the regulatory regime governing its management has a direct effect on the cost and durability of our roads and bridges. EPA’s proposal to reclassify this material as a hazardous waste would make road construction more expensive, the infrastructure we build may not last as long, and the liability - which translates to cost - would be higher for everyone.

A federal framework for states to regulate and manage this material is a common-sense alternative that maintains environmental protections without sacrificing jobs or driving up prices.

Likewise, the Keystone XL pipeline is a logical policy to include in our final agreement. After all, this is a jobs and infrastructure package and the Keystone XL pipeline is the ultimate jobs and infrastructure project.

Keystone XL has undergone extensive environmental review. The State Department worked with over 10 other federal agencies for more than three years and concluded that construction and operation of the pipeline would have limited adverse environmental impacts. In fact, construction of Keystone XL was “preferred” over not building the pipeline at all.

That is because pipelines are the safest way to transport oil and gas - and they’re safer than ever thanks to new pipeline safety requirements that many of us worked together to finalize and see enacted earlier this year.

TransCanada is working with the State of Nebraska to develop a new route that avoids environmentally sensitive areas. And just last week, the company resubmitted its application for the cross-border permit approval. The time for delay is over. This is a $7 billion privately funded infrastructure project that will create and support tens of thousands of jobs and bring tremendous energy security. It has been thoroughly reviewed, and its route in Nebraska is being resolved with input and agreement from the state.

Expedited approval of the Keystone XL pipeline has already secured broad, bipartisan support in the House. It has bipartisan backing in the Senate as well, and I am eager to see it included in our final agreement.

I thank Chairman Boxer and Chairman Mica, and I look forward to working with all of my colleagues to resolve these important issues.

Opening Statement of Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY), House and Senate Transportation Conference

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

While the main purpose of this transportation bill is to fund interstate highway and other federal transportation infrastructure projects, some also see it as an economic stimulus package and source of jobs.  However, given that we have experienced three years of record-breaking federal spending levels alongside stubbornly high unemployment, there clearly is more to creating jobs than simply spending more of the American people’s tax dollars. 

In my view, it is far more important to remove the bureaucratic red tape that threatens private sector job growth, and that is why I strongly support the transportation bill provisions dealing with coal ash and Keystone XL.  Overall, the inclusion of these provisions makes for a better bill and a more balanced approach to infrastructure development, while utilizing private sector funds to create jobs.

EPA has enacted many problematic regulations in recent years and stood in the way of various projects that could benefit our economy, but if there was one that stood out as being all cost and no benefit it is the proposal to re-designate coal ash as hazardous waste. 

For decades, coal ash has been regulated as non-hazardous waste under federal and state laws.  Even the Clinton administration’s EPA decided to leave well enough alone when it reviewed the coal ash regulations back in 2000.

Coal ash has many economically beneficial uses.  Nearly half of what is produced is recycled into products like concrete, both stretching the supply and improving the quality of this critical material for roads and buildings.  

Coal ash is used in many other manufactured goods, and in fact the National Association of Manufacturers estimates that up to 2,000 of their member companies use it.  According to the American Coal Council (ACC), the use of coal ash contributes $6-11 billion in annual economic benefit for the U.S. economy.

Re-designating coal ash as hazardous would put an end to these beneficial uses and result in negative environmental consequences.  And in turn, the volumes of coal ash which until now were safely mixed into concrete and other products would instead have to go to new landfills specially designed for the purpose. 

The negative economic consequences would be even worse.  A hazardous waste designation would turn coal ash from a valuable byproduct to a costly waste product.  It would hurt the viability of coal-fired power plants that are already facing a train wreck of expensive new EPA regulations such as greenhouse gas controls and Utility MACT.   The likely result would be plant closings, layoffs, and higher electricity rates.  In addition, it would raise the price of the concrete that goes into infrastructure projects.  The American people would get less bang for the buck from this transportation bill as well as future ones.   

The provisions in this bill preserve the beneficial uses of coal ash by precluding its categorization as hazardous waste.  They also ensure that any coal ash not used in products is disposed of in a safe manner under state direction. This bill would be a win for the environment, for jobs, and for lower electricity and concrete prices.

I also strongly support the provisions to end the red tape blocking the Keystone XL pipeline project.   While it takes federal tax dollars to fund all the other infrastructure projects addressed in this bill, Keystone XL would be paid for entirely by the private sector.  All the federal government needs to do is get out of the way.  Doing so would create thousands of jobs and bring an additional 800,000 barrels per day of oil into the country from our good ally Canada.

Both the coal ash and Keystone XL measures enjoyed strong bipartisan support as standalone bills in the House.  Now they both help make a good transportation bill even better and I urge you to support it. 

In Case You Missed It…

Coal ash bill protects environment, preserves jobs

The Hill’s Congress Blog, By Rep. David B. McKinley (R-WV)
May 07, 2012 

Today our nation faces an economic climate in which our national debt is headed toward a record $17 trillion dollars. If we continue on this path, America will meet the fate countries like Greece, Italy and Portugal are now facing.

Let’s put this into terms to which we all can relate:  $17 trillion is a debt that exceeds all the worth of our country’s production. If our government’s spending were like that of a family, the collection calls and overdue bills would have long ago caused families to cut spending. The country’s financial woes are severe and we don’t need to make it worse.

Consequently, the last thing we need is to add hundreds of thousands of workers to the unemployment lines and an increase in road, bridge and infrastructure costs. That’s what is being predicted to happen if coal ash is designated as a hazardous material by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Since 2009, the EPA and Obama Administration have been preparing a regulation to treat coal ash as a hazardous material. Such a move would increase the costs of building roads and bridges by $110 billion dollars, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders’ Association and, as stated in the Veritas Economic Report, the decision would cost the American economy 316,000 jobs.
Coal ash is a key component in concrete and has been used for building highways and bridges around the country for over 80 years. In the last decade over 360 tons of coal ash has been recycled and used in everyday products from concrete, bricks and drywall to cosmetics. In fact, EPA previously conducted two separate studies in 1993 and 2000 and concluded that coal ash is not hazardous and should continue to be beneficially recycled.

In response to the threats to our economy posed by this proposed EPA regulation, I have been fighting to protect the ability to recycle coal ash for over a year now. Most recently I offered an amendment that would provide rigid federal standards for the disposal of coal ash as part of the Surface Transportation Extension Act that passed the House. Previously the bill had passed the House on a bipartisan vote, but had stalled in the Senate. I have continued my fight on this issue, because it is about protecting both jobs and health, while maximizing government construction dollars. 

Here are the facts: currently, coal-fired power plants in 48 states create coal ash every day, but other than recycling there are no federal standards for safe disposal of the product. This is the first time in 30 years that Congress has offered environmentally safe standards for the disposal of coal ash. This language will protect health and jobs, all at the same time. For example: Liners to prevent leakage are mandated under this legislation for new impoundments, as are additional monitoring wells to detect leaks and a requirement for certified inspections of existing dams.

This amendment is both relevant to the transportation bill - after all coal ash is a key ingredient of concrete - and timely. This amendment offers a sincere, bi-partisan solution, finally addressing the coal ash issue. Dozens of government and private organizations, ranging from the Environmental Council of States to labor unions, support the safe recycling of coal ash. However, radical environmentalists have tried to mislead and scare the public on this issue. Some, including my colleague from West Virginia, Senator Rockefeller, have fallen victim to their scare tactics. They are ignoring the environmental safeguards built into the amendment.

Please keep in mind, if this amendment to the Highway Bill is removed, we would return to the status quo of not having a national standard for disposal of coal ash and the environmental issues facing families today would continue. 

Let me be clear: if there is a scientific consensus that fly ash is a hazardous material, than we should regulate it as such. The truth is, however, there hasn’t been scientific consensus that coal ash is hazardous material; in fact, there appears to be a consensus that it is non-hazardous. If this provision is included in the transportation bill, we will save taxpayer dollars on highway projects, protect jobs, and ensure the safe disposal of coal ash.