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Vol. 14, No. 12 — June 6, 2012
Whether you drive a car or truck, ride a bicycle, or even walk — it's no secret that Pennsylvania's roads and bridges are in serious trouble. But instead of the members of Congress actually working to fix these enormous literal and figurative potholes, they are using transportation funding as a partisan football.
How bad is Pennsylvania's transportation infrastructure and how badly do we need funding to fix it? It's worse than you thought. The Federal Highway Administration says Pennsylvania has the nation's largest inventory of structurally deficient bridges -- 6,060 as of last December. In March, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issued its "2010 Report Card for Pennsylvania's Infrastructure" giving our bridges a grade of C, with 27 percent of the state's bridges structurally deficient, compared with 12 percent nationwide.
And that's the good news.
The state of our roads is even worse. Pennsylvania's roads received a D-minus, with 38 percent of the state's roads in fair or poor condition. And that is no small problem — Pennsylvania ranks fifth in the nation for miles of state-owned highways, and truck traffic on interstate highways in the state is double the national average.
This all adds up to a serious crisis — one that will ripple through the economy, killing jobs and businesses along with quality of life, unless we take action to fix it. But none of that is persuading Congress to put aside politics and take action.
Two different transportation funding bills have passed the U.S. Senate and the House, and conferees are meeting now to try to meld the two. But the differences are stark, and no agreement seems forthcoming. The extension of the existing transportation law expires June 30, so Congress must act very soon.
The Senate bill is a comprehensive reauthorization law to meet our transportation needs. It would protect 3 million American jobs and make significant improvements in our nation's infrastructure. This bill, which passed the Senate earlier this year with an overwhelmingly bipartisan 74-22 vote, would help reduce our dependence on oil and move our transportation system into the 21st century.
But the House went a different direction, leaving bipartisanship in the dust. Seeing this legislation as "must pass," the GOP House leadership decided to add a provision to require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to approve a permit within 30 days of receiving an application for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. If FERC fails to issue a permit before the 30-day deadline, a permit would be deemed approved.
This is a particularly damaging and divisive provision. This pipeline would profit Canadian oil companies at the expense of U.S. taxpayers and our environment, using the U.S. as a pass-through to get the tar sands oil to the refineries near Gulf of Mexico for global export.
And this is not just any oil. Tar sands oil is a type of heavily polluting, crude oil. Tar sands are a mixture of sand, clay, water and bitumen, a viscous type of oil that must be diluted before it can be pumped through pipelines. Bitumen is more damaging to pipelines than conventional oil and it is more toxic and harder to clean up when spilled, as proven by the devastating spill of over 1 million gallons into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.
James Hansen, noted scientist and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies said that allowing the tar sands pipeline to go through would be "game over for the climate." In his New York Times op-ed, Hansen detailed why:
Canada's tar sands ... contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than ... more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet's species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.
But despite the risk automatic approval would present, the House GOP insisted on adding the tar sands pipeline to the transportation bill even though President Obama rejected the pipeline proposal in January. Congress at that time had passed a strict deadline for approval, but the president found that it did not leave sufficient time to conduct the necessary review. So now, in one of the highest risk games of chicken ever seen, the House leadership wants to force the administration to either accept the pipeline proposal automatically, or veto our desperately needed transportation funding.
It's time to put partisan politics aside and do what's right for our nation and our planet. The conference committee should move the bipartisan Senate transportation bill forward, and both houses should pass it, so we can fix our many potholes.
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