Department of Transportation
Everything had been planned just so for President Obama’s July 6 campaign speech on the front lawn of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. Obama’s Oxford blue dress shirt was crisply cuffed. His Pittsburgh Pirates references were timed expertly. The loopy, cursive lettering of the campaign’s “Betting on America” billboard got several seconds of air-time on the local news. But the speech was marred by sweltering, 100-degree heat, something that no amount of planning could prevent.
A national policy for freight--one that recognizes the multi-modal and increasingly globalized nature of goods movement and accordingly directs federal spending based on rigorous and defensible criteria--is one of those classic goo-goo initiatives that everyone seems to want, but isn’t sexy enough to make it past the “Hey, that’s a good idea!” stage. Twice in the past year, Sens.
What happened the last time you flew? Did an unforeseen delay stretch into an interminable departure-lounge purgatory, infused with the scent of Burger King, Cinnabun, and cleaning fluid? Maybe you were lucky enough to get on the plane as scheduled, only to be held on the tarmac for an hour or two, or overnight, like those passengers in Rochester, Minnesota, back in August 2009 (after which a passenger reflected, “Now I know what it’s like to be in hell”).
The Senate has basically given up on passing a climate bill. So where does that leave us? Yesterday, I noted on Twitter that the action is going to shift to the states and federal agencies. Remember, the EPA is obligated to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, and Lisa Jackson is moving ahead with those rules. (Here's my primer on that.) Meanwhile, as I've reported before, plenty of states are moving ahead with their own climate policies. There's already a (modest) cap-and-trade system for utilities in the Northeast called RGGI.
One of the more surprising aspects of the mammoth Senate climate proposal (that's a big honking pdf, by the way) released today was the bit on transportation. Kerry and Lieberman took a very different tack on this subject than the House did—and it's a stunning improvement. For starters, the cap-and-trade program would generate about $7 billion in revenues from selling carbon permits to oil companies and refineries. That money would then get split evenly in three ways: 1) One-third would go toward federal grants for big transportation projects.
Earlier this week, several environmental groups fired off a letter to the Obama administration condemning the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Their complaint? The green groups believed that OMB was incorrectly devaluing the cost savings that would come from a new EPA rule on vehicle fuel efficiency. Many greens were outraged.
Recently we noticed that the year-old federal Recovery Act--for all its shortcomings and business-as-usual--actually served as a prolific hatchery for longer-term policy innovation. Along those lines we pointed out how many novel programs--introduced in the Recovery Act and ranging from the Department of Education’s Race to the Top (RTT) and Investing in Innovation (I3) funds to the interagency Sustainable Communities Initiative--are now wending through Congress as bona fide program start-ups in the base FY 2011 budget process.
One way to assess the $787 billion federal recovery package—which last month had its one-year anniversary—is the conventional way: as timely, short-term stimulus. And on that point—though the package gets no respect—the consensus among economists is pretty complete, as I recently noted. The stimulus has preserved or created 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs to date.
In his State of the Union, President Obama made reducing the budget deficit one of the priorities of the administration for next year. The announcement of budgetary caps and potential cuts in federal non-national security programs worried communities that rely on discretionary federal spending. The FY 2011 budget proposal released this past Monday shows the highly anticipated figures. For transportation, however, it is not a clear story. Part of the reason is the schizophrenic nature of the major surface transportation programs that hold contract authority.