Inside The D.C. Beltway Update: Climate Action, Paying For Highways, Driver Shortage, Fuel Blending
Following U.S. Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) announcement that he would not (at this time) support increased climate spending, Democratic lawmakers and environmental activists have urged President Biden to take stronger executive action.
During a July 20 speech in Massachusetts, President Biden laid out a framework for increased executive action, which so far will include additional federal funding for climate-related disaster preparedness and directives for the Department of the Interior to accelerate offshore wind energy production projects off the Gulf of Mexico and southern Atlantic Coast.
President Biden resisted pressure to declare a national climate emergency, which would unlock greater federal powers. The White House is reportedly waiting to make such an announcement until a healthcare-focused reconciliation bill – supported by Senator Manchin – is underway.
Paying For Highway Needs
Testifying before the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this week, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said that general fund transfers are a “legitimate way to fund our highway needs,” referring to the question of whether Congress will maintain a user pays approach in the future.
He noted that as “we continue to transition toward electric vehicles and zero-emitting vehicles, it means that we’re going to need to have other means for filling gaps in the Highway Trust Fund…up until now Congress has been prepared to do that through general fund transfers. That’s certainly a legitimate way to fund our highway needs.”
As a reminder, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes funding for a pilot program to study a vehicle miles traveled mechanism, which would apply to all types of cars the same.
CDL Driver Shortage
Also, during the hearing, Rep. Troy Balderson (R-OH) questioned Sec. Buttigieg on the commercial driver’s license (CDL) shortage and hazmat certification issue.
Sec. Buttigieg said he was familiar with Rep. Balderson’s letter – which EMA spearheaded – and said he was open to discuss the issues and consider solutions.
Sec. Buttigieg also did not attempt to shift responsibility to other government agencies, which is a positive development that emphasizes the importance of EMA’s outreach during the Day on The Hill.
Renewable Fuel Blending Challenge
In the courts, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a lawsuit in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the EPA’s renewable fuel blending mandates for corn ethanol and other biofuels for 2020, 2021 and 2022.
Earlier this year, the EPA set the ethanol corn blending mandate at 15 billion gallons and 5.63 billion gallons for advanced biofuels.
The lawsuit alleges the EPA failed to fully assess the impacts of land conversion, including loss of wildlife habitat and increased pesticide and fertilizer runoff caused by the increase in blending volumes will have on endangered species.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals already ruled in 2018, and again in 2019 that the EPA failed to properly assess the impact of RFS blending mandates on endangered species.
In a 2018 report, the EPA said total land conversion from natural habitat to corn ethanol and soybean production since the start of the RFS program could be as high as 7.8 million acres.
According to the CBD, fertilizer and pesticide runoff into streams and rivers from converted acreage harms endangered species including pallid sturgeon in the Mississippi and increases ocean dead zones, hurting endangered sea turtles and other marine animals.
The EPA said it is currently conducting the required endangered species analysis but gave no timetable for when it will be completed.
The CBD filed a Petition for Review with the Circuit Court of Appeals. No word yet on whether the Court will hear arguments on the lawsuit.