APWA leaders take TEA-21 reauthorization advocacy to Washington

Jim Fahey
Director of Government Affairs
APWA Washington Office

Lawmakers and the Administration began the year pledging to work quickly to pass long-delayed legislation to reauthorize the expired Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). Negotiations to finalize a bill stalled last year in a House-Senate conference due to lack of agreement on a total funding level and other issues.

APWA President Tom Trice, President-Elect Bob Freudenthal and Director-at-Large, Transportation Marshall Elizer wasted no time coming to Washington, D.C. in early February for a day-long series of meetings on Capitol Hill. They were there to urge quick action on an adequately funded multi-year bill, just as members of the newly-installed 109th Congress were completing their organizing duties and preparing to move legislative priorities. Their message: The continued delay is undermining state and local governments' ability to plan, program and implement transportation projects needed to improve safety and mobility and support jobs and economic growth in communities throughout the nation.

The need for quick action on reauthorization of TEA-21 is underscored by the fact that a sixth temporary extension expires May 31, 2005. If a bill is not signed into law by that date, a new extension will be required to prevent a cut-off of transportation dollars to state and local transportation programs. Since TEA-21 expired more than 18 months ago on September 30, 2003, a series of extensions has provided month-to-month funding authority for federal transportation programs which require the stability and predictability of long-term multi-year funding streams.

APWA Board members and staff met with Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters to discuss transportation issues and reauthorization of TEA-21. From left to right: Director of Technology Transfer Lisa Pogue; APWA Director-at-Large, Transportation Marshall Elizer; APWA President Tom Trice; FHWA Administrator Mary Peters; APWA President-Elect Bob Freudenthal; Executive Director Peter King; and Director of Government Affairs Jim Fahey.

In addition to meetings on Capitol Hill, Trice, Freudenthal, and Elizer, who is also a member of APWA's TEA-21 Reauthorization Task Force, met with Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters. They discussed reauthorization and communicated APWA's commitment to working with the Federal Highway Administration as a partner and key stakeholder during the program implementation process which will follow the bill's enactment. Local agencies have a tremendous stake in the implementation of a new authorization because, when signed into law, the act will establish national transportation policy, and with that offer new opportunities and create new expectations, through the end of the decade.

Congressional activity on reauthorization began in February when House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leaders reintroduced the Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (TEA-LU), without substantial changes from the bill the House passed last year, but with $4.5 billion more total funding than the previous bill. The six-year measure covers the years 2004 through 2009 and includes $284 billion in guaranteed funding for highway and transit programs. This is the same level presented in the Administration's fiscal year 2006 budget proposal released in February and supported by House conferees and reportedly by the Administration during conference negotiations last fall.

The leadership of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had not yet introduced their bill, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA), at the time this article went to press, but their plans were to reintroduce the bill the Senate passed last year without substantial changes. The Senate leadership supports the $284 billion level proposed by the Administration and included in the House bill. SAFETEA as passed last year provided $301 billion in guaranteed funding over six years.

Because legislation from a previous Congress cannot carry over into a new one, reauthorization bills had to be reintroduced and need to retrace the legislative steps they followed last year, including passage out of committee and floor votes in each chamber. From there, the two bills will again be reconciled in a House-Senate conference committee. TEA-21 took about eight weeks to be reconciled in conference in 1998.

APWA's TEA-21 Reauthorization Task Force and Government Affairs Committee members have been among the many APWA members at the national and chapter levels who have taken an active part advocating APWA's priorities for reauthorization. These priorities include support for directing additional resources to local areas to address such critical needs as congestion mitigation, safety, and rural road improvements.

In addition to urging quick action this year to enact a bill, APWA is working with lawmakers and their staff throughout the process to ensure that a final bill protects the gains achieved in TEA-21 by securing an enhanced role for local decision-making, greater flexibility to address local and regional transportation needs, and streamlining the environmental review and project delivery process.

For more information about TEA-21 reauthorization, visit APWA's website at www.apwa.net/Advocacy.
Jim Fahey can be reached at (202) 218-6730 or at jfahey@apwa.net.

President-Elect Freudenthal tells Congress: "Local communities should not be held responsible for MTBE cleanup"

Heather McTavish Doucet
Manager of Government Affairs
APWA Washington Office

During a congressional briefing held on Capitol Hill on February 11, APWA President-Elect Bob Freudenthal stressed to staffers that offering a liability waiver for manufacturers of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) would reward their corporate misbehavior, set a terrible precedent for other producers, jeopardize public health, and force the water customer to pay for cleanup instead of the polluter.

From left: APWA Government Affairs Manager Heather McTavish Doucet; APWA President-Elect Bob Freudenthal; and Larry Gondelman, Counsel for the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies

The briefing was held as Congress resumes consideration of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which includes a provision that would give manufacturers of the fuel additive MTBE immunity from defective product liability. APWA President Tom Trice and President-Elect Bob Freudenthal were on Capitol Hill representing local governments who oppose a "get out of jail free" card for MTBE producers.

The cost of cleanup for MTBE is estimated at $29 billion nationally, an expense that municipalities would have to bear if the liability waiver is passed by Congress. In a recent Department of Justice announcement of a settlement where several oil companies will pay $1.5 million to the Environmental Protection Agency for costs it incurred while directing the investigation and cleanup of MTBE from a groundwater basin formerly used for drinking water by the City of Santa Monica, California, it noted the cost of the City of Santa Monica cleanup alone was in excess of $200 million.

Although the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 require the use of oxygenated gasoline in areas with high levels of air pollution, they did not mandate the use of MTBE. Gasoline producers used the oil-based substance because it was less expensive than alternative oxygenates. MTBE makes its way into groundwater and sources of drinking water through leaks in underground storage tanks, pipelines and boats.

Documents released during litigation by the South Lake Tahoe Public Utility District in California show that the oil industry was aware of potential contamination and knew how quickly MTBE travels in the water and how expensive and difficult it is to clean up. The documents showed that oil producers knew in 1981 that even small amounts of MTBE can contaminate a water supply because of foul taste and odor. South Lake Tahoe won their case with a defective product liability claim and was awarded $69 million from a number of oil producers.

Seventeen states have banned or partially banned the use of MTBE within their borders.

Joining APWA at the briefing were officials from the American Water Works Association, the Association of California Water Agencies, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the National Association of Counties, the National Association of Towns and Townships, the National League of Cities, the National Water Resources Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the Western Coalition of Arid States.

Heather McTavish Doucet can be reached at (202) 218-6732 or at hdoucet@apwa.net.