Federal government update: Clean air legislation and surface transportation bill


“rot” may be the new state of transit if the House of Representatives passes two transportation bills that affect the entire nation. Photo by Eric Rogers. 

This is a quick update on two federal government topics I’ve been following: the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was proposing to make the Chicago region an “attainment zone”, meaning we’d meet our pollution reduction goals (for just particulate matter) and that we would lose our eligibility for Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds (CMAQ) – see the original post. But those funds may not be so protected, if the House Republicans have their say and are able to pass H.R.3864, the new surface transportation bill – see the original post.

Attainment zone

CMAQ funds for transit, intersection improvements, bike sharing, and hundreds of other regional projects is no longer at risk. From Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s email newsletter on Friday, February 3:

A big thank you to all who submitted comments urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its preliminary ruling on our region’s status regarding federal air quality standards. This week the U.S. EPA sent a letter to Governor Quinn (pdf) stating that 2011 data certified by our state would be considered, and that the data shows our region is not “in attainment” with the federal air standards. See a press release from Sen. Durbin on behalf of our congressional delegation, which included support from Sen. Kirk and Representatives Dold, Jackson, Lipinski, Quigley, and Schakowsky. The result is that about $90 million in annual federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program funds will continue to support vital transportation projects in our region. The ruling of non-attainment should help to ensure that northeast Illinois, northwest Indiana, and southeast Wisconsin will continue to pursue cleaner air rather than to relax such standards.

New surface transportation bill

The best breakdown of last week’s activity about Congressional activity on the new surface transportation bill is on The Transport Politic. Both bills I mentioned (H.R.3864, the transportation bill, and H.R.7, the companion funding bill eliminating dedicated transit funding) were passed by their respective committees. The fight is not over, though:

It is with deep disappointment, therefore, that we in the Transportation for America coalition find ourselves compelled to oppose the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act as advanced by House leadership. While we commend Chairman Mica (R-FL) for doing what he can to move a long-term transportation bill forward, the full legislation that is now heading to the floor of the House has significant fatal flaws.

The opposition comes from Transportation 4 America. We join them in their opposition.  See the bill’s flaws.

7 thoughts on “Federal government update: Clean air legislation and surface transportation bill”

  1. There is another aspect of this bill affecting existing CMAQ funding: Air Quality metrics would no longer be considered, just congestion mitigation.  Meaning, adding lanes to highways could get priority in a program once meant to reduce VMT on a broader scale.

      1. A) Raise the standards
        B) Change the funding model so targeted regions aren’t penalized for improvement andt fall into a cycle of relapses

        oh hai..heerz an idea:
        C) Dedicate more funding for transit and biking and modernize the federal gas tax to discourage wasteful consumption of a vital public resource.

    1. Don’t worry! We already covered it last year. I guess we just need to maintain 2011 levels of pollution and we’re good for the life of the program. 

      This situation has pointed out the paradox we’ve put our region in: we want $90 million per year in funding for sustainable transportation projects (and some intersection “improvements”), but we also want clean air. 

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