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House GOP Transit Bill is Nothing but Ugly

J. Mijin Cha

Well, you have to hand it to the House GOP. They are consistent, if nothing else. Their proposed transportation bill, the American Energy and Infrastructure Act, continues their attack on the environment and working folks by opening up virtually all areas for offshore drilling and eliminating dedicated funding for public transportation. Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood called it, “the worst transportation bill I’ve ever seen,” and he’s right.

Among the many bad provisions, the bill would eliminate all dedicated federal funding for public transportation. Currently, a portion of revenue from gas taxes goes into a dedicated highway trust fund. Of that money, 80 percent goes to highways, bridges and tunnels and 20 percent goes to mass transit. If the House GOP’s bill passes, all that money would now go exclusively to building roads, bridges and tunnels.  Cutting the funding for public transportation would disproportionately impact poorer populations, communities of color, and people with disabilities who all heavily rely on public transportation.

It also disproportionately affects urban areas and their transit systems. New York City alone received $1billion from the fund and, considering the MTA continually faces budget shortfalls, losing the federal money would have devastating consequences. Given the many benefits of public transportation, including easing commutes, saving money and energy, and improving quality of life, the GOP assault against it is particularly troublesome.

The bill also opens up environmentally fragile areas that have long been off limits to drilling and erodes the environmental review process by imposing arbitrary deadlines and ceding to state authorities to decide whether these reviews should even occur. The environmental review process for transit projects ensures that any negative environmental impacts are identified and mitigated as much as possible. Only about seven percent of state transit projects go through this process. By further eroding it, the GOP continues their full on assault on environmental protection in an area that impacts so few projects. As for the drilling, the New York Times editorial board rightly stated, “it is really just one more attempt to promote the Republicans’ drill-now-drill-everywhere agenda and the interests of their industry patrons.”

The bill does nothing to improve and repair existing infrastructure, even though our aging infrastructure costs the economy $130 billion every year. A recent study by the Urban Land Institute estimated that it would cost $2 trillion to fix our crumbling infrastructure. Yet, the proposed GOP bill does nothing to address this problem.

So, the bill doesn't address our real transit and infrastructure needs and instead focuses on punishing working people and continuing the attack on environmental protection. Like I said, they are nothing if not consistent.