On Wednesday, April 18, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 4348 under a rule. H.R. 4348 was introduced by Rep. John Mica (R-FL) on April 16, 2012, and was referred to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure as well as the Committees on Ways and Means, Natural Resources, Science, Space, and Technology, and Energy and Commerce. The rule for consideration of H.R. 4348 provides one hour of general debate equally divided and controlled by the chair and ranking minority member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The rule also makes in order three amendments, which are summarized below. For a summary of the underlying legislation, please see the Legislative Digest for April 18, 2012.
Amendment No. 1—Rep. Boustany (R-LA): The amendment would require that the total amount of funding for harbor maintenance appropriated from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) each fiscal year must be equal to the HMTF receipts as estimated by the President's budget for that year. The Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) funds U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' activities related to the routine operation and maintenance of harbors, namely the dredging of harbor channels to their authorized depths and widths. This tax is assessed on the value of imported and domestic cargo handled at ports at the current rate of 0.125% ($1.25 per $1,000 in cargo value), which in recent years has raised over $1 billion annually. According to CRS, “In recent years, HMTF annual expenditures have remained relatively flat while HMT collections have increased due to rising import volume. Consequently, a large ‘surplus’ in the HMTF has developed. Despite the surplus, the busiest U.S. harbors are not being fully maintained, according to the Corps.”
Amendment No. 2—Rep. Ribble (R-WI): The amendment would add environmental streamlining provisions from Title III of the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act (H.R. 7) to the underlying bill. According to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, government bureaucracy and red tape in the approval and permitting process create needless infrastructure project delays and cost increases. According to the Federal Highway Administration, highway projects can take up to 15 years to complete. While state and local governments deal with the seemingly endless review process, transportation capacity and safety improvements stall, construction costs escalate, and job creation is put on hold. This amendment would streamline and condense the project review process by cutting bureaucratic red tape, allowing federal agencies to review transportation projects concurrently, and setting hard deadlines for federal agencies to approve projects, in addition to providing states with more approval authority.
Specifically, provisions applicable to the environmental review process would reform National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements applicable to federal highway and transit projects. Under the amendment NEPA restrictions and requirements would no longer apply to highway or transit projects that cost less than $10 million or for which federal funding constitutes 15 percent or less of total project costs. For projects still subject to NEPA, the amendment would reform the compliance process by changing the range of potential project alternatives that must be considered; the format of and analysis required in certain NEPA documents; and the level of evaluation required to determine cumulative project impacts. The amendment would also expedite the project approval process by requiring agencies outside the Department of Transportation to adhere to specific timeframes to provide necessary permits or approvals; establish a 270-day deadline for completing the overall environmental review process; and establish limits to judicial review applicable to environmental documents. The amendment would also apply similar streamlining reforms to requirements applicable to parks, wildlife refuges, recreation areas, and historic sites or properties.
According to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, reforms contained in this amendment would streamline transportation project approval processes as follows:
Efficient Environmental Reviews
Clarifies Eligibility for Pre-Construction Activities
Amendment No. 3—Rep. McKinley (R-WV): The amendment would add the text of H.R. 2273, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, to the underlying bill. H.R. 2273 was approved in the House on October 14, 2011, by a vote of 267-144. The amendment would create a federal regulatory regime for the establishment of state-level permitting programs for the storage of coal combustion residuals under the Solid Waste Disposal Act, which is now primarily used to regulate the management of municipal solid waste landfills and sewage landfills. The bill also limits the authority of the EPA to issue new federal regulations regarding coal combustion residuals that would be regulated on the state level. The amendment would facilitate the recovery and beneficial use of coal combustion residuals and ensure that unused portions are responsibly managed by creating a state-based permit program in accordance with existing federal standards. For a full summary of H.R. 2273, please see the Legislative Digest for October 14, 2011.