The U.S. House of Representatives voted today to pass a transportation bill which includes several issues of high importance to the environment. Responding to this news, The Nature Conservancy released the following statement today from Bob Bendick, Director of U.S. Government Relations:
“The House Transportation Bill has mixed news for the environment. While we are encouraged that important legislation to help fund restoration in the Gulf of Mexico has now taken another step forward, we have serious concerns about several other issues raised by today’s vote.
“First, the positive aspect of today’s vote is that it advances the long-overdue restoration of the Gulf of Mexico by rightfully directing fines that may result from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill toward restoration of the Gulf—a natural system of global importance. These civil penalties will be a one-time payment by responsible parties and are not paid for by taxpayers. Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) demonstrated strong leadership to ensure the Gulf restoration provision was in the bill today, and we thank him for his hard work on this critical issue that will benefit not only the Gulf region, but all of America.
“However, the package supported by the House today also includes a provision approving the permit for the Keystone pipeline. The Nature Conservancy is opposed to this provision because it interferes with existing permitting and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) processes. So far, the process to permit pipelines has worked in the Keystone case. As a result of bipartisan opposition to a pipeline that went through the environmentally sensitive Nebraska Sand Hills region, TransCanada is now negotiating with Nebraska, and all parties may agree on a new route that protects fragile natural resources. It is unfortunate to see Congress attempt to circumvent the permitting process that is required by law—a process that is working.
“Meanwhile, it is important not to let today’s amendments allow us to lose sight of the transportation bill itself. Transportation and infrastructure projects have a direct effect on the environment, energy use and habitat across the nation, so it should be a priority for Congress to get these policies right too by taking environmental impacts into account in transportation planning and investment.
“For example, the Conservancy has been promoting the prioritization of rebuilding culverts and other projects to enhance aquatic connectivity along roadways. We also advocate for programs that allow states to plan for and implement environmental mitigation across a suite of transportation projects. These initiatives not only improve road safety and the efficiency of getting transportation projects on the ground, but they also have big potential for habitat restoration and reducing impacts to the environment from transportation projects. The Senate bill includes provisions for these initiatives, and we encourage Congress to uphold them as the bill goes to conference.
“Now that both the House and Senate have passed transportation bills, Congress has an opportunity to craft the final bill in a way that honors America’s traditional commitment to conservation and makes long-term advances in protecting and restoring our nation’s precious lands and waters for generations to come. We hope the Conference Committee can agree on, and the full Congress will pass, a transportation bill that supports Gulf of Mexico restoration, includes the funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund that was made part of the bill by a strong bi-partisan majority vote in the Senate, supports environmentally smart transportation policies, and that does not abridge longstanding environmental permitting processes.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.