Chairman Carper’s Opening Statement: Surface Transportation Markup & Committee Business Meeting
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) will hold a business meeting to mark up the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021. EPW will also consider the nominations of Shannon Estenoz to be Assistant Secretary of Fish and Wildlife and Parks of the Department of the Interior, Radhika Fox to be Assistant Administrator for Water of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Michal Freedhoff to be Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention of the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as 10 General Services Administration Resolutions.
Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Good morning, everyone. I am pleased to call this business meeting to order as we prepare to consider three nominations, 10 General Services Administration measures, and our bipartisan surface transportation reauthorization bill.
“Let me begin by observing that the three nominees whose names are before us—Shannon Estenoz, Radhika Fox, and Michal Freedhoff—are all extremely well-qualified for the positions to which they have been nominated. When our committee met a few weeks ago to hear from the nominees, it was wonderful—heartwarming, really—to be joined by a panel of such bright, dedicated and well-spoken public servants and by a number of their family members.
“It was particularly special for us to hear from Michal, who served as an invaluable member of our EPW team and as key advisor to Senator Markey and to me. I’m grateful that Michal and her fellow nominees, Radhika and Shannon, are willing to serve in these new roles, and I know that our nation will be the better for it. I strongly urge all of my colleagues to join me today in advancing their nominations to the full Senate.
“I’m also pleased we are considering a set of 10 General Services Administration measures, which we will be considering en bloc. These are commonsense resolutions that I hope all of us will support.
“Now, I’d like to spend the remainder of my time this morning addressing our surface transportation reauthorization bill that we are considering here today.
“The Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021 is the result of months of hard work and a genuine team effort on which I was pleased to join with Senator Capito, Senator Cardin, Senator Cramer, our respective staffs and many members of this committee. The bill before us today is a testament to our team’s relentless drive and tireless commitment to crafting a bipartisan agreement that will enable us to create a transportation system that the twenty-first century will require if the U.S. is to remain a leader among nations.
“This reauthorization bill before us today calls for historic levels of highway funding—$303.5 billion worth over the next five years.
“This bill also commits $18 billion towards reducing our carbon emissions, as well as $500 million to mitigate climate impacts on the most vulnerable amongst us—typically communities of color, tribal communities and other disadvantaged communities. The bill would also provide another $500 million to upgrade our existing transportation infrastructure to withstand the inevitable effects of our changing climate.
“As most of us know, the transportation sector is the largest source of carbon emissions in our nation, so if we want to preserve our planet for our children and grandchildren, it’s imperative that we tackle this major contributor to the climate crisis. This bill before us today helps to puts us on the right track, with an $18 billion climate title, of which $2.5 billion is dedicated to building electric vehicle charging and hydrogen fueling stations on highways and in locations like schools, workplaces, parks, and publicly accessible areas for communities.
“Our bill also tackles another serious challenge – that of safety. Bicycling and walking are affordable and healthy modes of transportation, but far too many Americans live in neighborhoods where there are no safe bike lanes or crosswalks. In 2019 alone, over 7,000 pedestrians and bicyclists lost their lives in traffic accidents. Just in one year!
“So, I’m delighted that our bill provides a 70 percent increase in funding for programs that develop safe, accessible pedestrian and bicycle pathways across our nation, while also committing to provide $16.8 billion in funding for highway safety improvements.
“The third challenge our bill seeks to address is historic inequity in transportation investments. We know that past investments in transportation programs have left behind far too many Americans, especially those in communities of color. To that end, our bill focuses on investments to lift up all communities.
“That’s why we’ve included provisions from the Reconnecting Communities Act, legislation I authored with Senators Van Hollen and Cardin to address past transportation infrastructure projects that have divided and harmed too many neighborhoods across the nation. In my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, construction of I-95 in the 1960’s and ‘70’s through the city tore many communities apart—cutting off access to neighbors, parks, and economic opportunity. We can begin to help heal those wounds with the projects we enable in this legislation.
“I’m proud that our bill focuses on these critical issues of climate, safety, and equity, and does so in a bipartisan way that will put our transportation programs on the right track for the next five years.
“But, the work doesn’t stop here. It is imperative that our sister Senate committees—Banking, Commerce, and Finance—act quickly on their portions of surface transportation reauthorization, so we can get this bill across the finish line before the current law expires on September 30.
“I will continue to work with our colleagues on those committees to encourage them to act without delay, especially since we’ve taken action here in record time with our highways bill.
“The fast timeline that led to this markup today is not by chance—it’s a reflection of our commitment to getting the work done, a commitment shared by President Biden. Back in February, the President invited Senator Capito, Senator Cardin, Senator Inhofe and me to the White House to discuss our surface transportation reauthorization. The President asked us if we could get this done by Memorial Day and we answered affirmatively. Today, we are poised to deliver on that request.
“Let’s be clear, though. There’s still much more work to be done on infrastructure during this Congress. The President’s jobs plan identifies a number of transformational investments to strengthen our economy. They include much more than we could cover within our committee’s jurisdiction and within this bill—from clean energy tax credits to intercity passenger rail to transit and more.
“But, the first step in realizing that vision is ensuring that our transportation programs are running smoothly and working efficiently. That’s why our surface transportation bill is so critical. With this legislation, we can begin to modernize our highway programs and do so with policies to address safety, equity, and climate at the same time. It’s a vital foundation for the President’s American Jobs Plan and a remarkable bipartisan achievement.”