U.S. House Transportation Committee Holds Markup Of Surface Transportation Bill
Last week, the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a markup to consider numerous amendments to H.R. 2, the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST) Act, that was introduced by Democrats two weeks ago.
The bill would direct the Secretary of Transportation to delay the new FMCSA hours-of-service rule for commercial drivers until a comprehensive review of its waivers, exemptions and related guidelines is finalized.
There were several amendments considered at the markup that are significant to fuel marketers.
First, Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) introduced an amendment to the bill that would lift the longtime ban on the commercialization of Interstate rest areas by allowing electric vehicle (EV) charging stations to be built at them.
Unfortunately, the amendment was ultimately included in Committee Chairman Pete DeFazio’s (D-OR) manager’s amendment that passed by a vote of 36-20.
PMAA, along with NATSO, SIGMA and NACS, has been fighting attempts to lift the ban on the commercialization of rest areas because the ban has been essential in protecting the significant investments fuel marketers have made in communities and real estate directly off the U.S. Interstate System.
PMAA also opposed Section 1303 of the bill that would create an alternative fuel corridor grant program, specifically providing $350 million per year for grants for EV charging and hydrogen fueling infrastructure.
PMAA is concerned that the grant program could allow the government to own and operate EV charging stations and compete with private businesses as well as permit electric utilities to double dip– meaning they could charge their rate paying consumers to pay to expand EV infrastructure, while also taking grant money to subsidize the same projects.
An amendment offered by Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX) was approved which allows natural gas and propane projects to receive grants under the alternative fuel corridor grants program in the bill.
Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) introduced an amendment that would have scrapped the grant program; however, the amendment failed by a vote of 23-40.
Additionally, Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL) introduced an amendment that would more than double the current minimum insurance requirement for commercial motor vehicles from $750,000 to $2 million.
The amendment was heavily criticized by many Republicans at the markup. Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) called Rep. Garcia’s amendment “nothing more than a handout to the trial attorneys.”
Rep. Garrett Graves (R-LA) expressed his opposition to the amendment, saying that raising the minimum insurance requirement on truckers would inevitably drive up the cost of shipping goods across the country leading to higher food prices, which will “have a disproportionate impact on the poor.”
Rep. Garcia’s amendment ultimately passed by a vote of 37-27.
Although the bill was completely partisan, some GOP amendments were adopted including Rep. Stauber’s (R-MN) amendment directing the Secretary of Commerce to certify that EV charging stations are free of minerals that are mined using child labor.
House Transportation Committee Chairman DeFazio opposed the amendment, arguing it was an attempt to target charging infrastructure, but it was approved 43-19.
Prior to the markup, PMAA sent a letter highlighting its concerns with certain provisions and amendments to the INVEST Act especially the rest area commercialization language.
PMAA also highlighted its concerns that the grant program does not provide for the equitable distribution of funds or account for other investment required for infrastructure changes that may be needed to accommodate EV and alternative fueling equipment such as upgrades to site utilities and expanding paved areas.
PMAA urged the Committee to ensure that 50 percent of the grant program funding be dedicated to small, independent fuel marketing businesses who can diversify and bring necessary competition to the market.
Now that the bill has been marked up, it now heads to the House floor for a vote that is expected to take place in early July. While the Democratic-controlled House is expected to approve the bill, it is dead on arrival in the Senate.
The bill currently lacks a “pay for” meaning it is unlikely that a potential multiyear surface transportation bill is signed into law this year.
The 24.4 cents-per-gallon diesel tax and 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax have remained unchanged since 1993. Congress is more than likely to pass a short-term reauthorization of surface transportation programs into next year since current law is set to expire on September 30, 2020.
Administration’s Own Plan
Finally, reports have indicated that the Trump Administration has been drafting its own infrastructure plan in hopes that a package could kickstart the economy that has been hit hard by the coronavirus health pandemic.
A preliminary plan being prepared by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) would provide nearly $1 trillion in funding, the majority of which would be spent on roads and bridges.