Monday, March 05, 2012
News from Congressman Jeff Flake
Congress and the Administration have been running amok with new federal spending and regulations over the last several weeks. I’d like to take a few moments to update you on a few of these plans, as well as my efforts to keep the costs and red tape in check.
It was all but assured that the massive bill to reauthorize federal transportation spending would be on the House Floor two weeks ago. It came close to being voted on, but was ultimately pulled last-minute without the votes to pass in its current form.It’s no wonder why.
The bill authorized more than $260 billion for federal transportation spending projects while also putting the federal Highway Trust Fund on the fast track to bankruptcy by once again proposing to draw more from the Trust than gas tax revenue could possibly put in.
As the bill is restructured over the next few weeks, Congress should make it a priority to scale back transportation spending levels to be consistent with the revenues actually flowing into the highway trust fund. The bill should also require that federal dollars are only used for projects with a clear federal nexus, not for projects like bike paths and “scenic beautification.”
Additionally, Congress should be pursuing legislation that gives states greater flexibility with regard to spending the gas tax dollars that are sent back to them from the federal government.
Once a state is given an amount from the federal government exclusively for transportation spending, it should have the ability to spend those tax dollars in ways that most benefit the state’s individual needs. I hope to see transportation authority returned to the states, thereby giving them maximum flexibility in managing transportation dollars without federal interference.
On the subject of gas tax dollars returned to states, I will continue to fight as I have for years to make the rate of return of these funds more equitable. The least Congress can do is increase the guaranteed rate return to ensure states are getting back a more equitable percentage of gas tax monies that they pay into the Highway Trust Fund.
Hopefully, Congress will keep in mind the clear message its members sent about the previous version of the transportation bill – that it spent too much – as they work restructure the existing legislation. I have draft language for amendments prepared if this message is not heeded.
Recreational Shooting Protection Act
Over the last several months, the Department of Interior has been on a bureaucratic overreach kick regarding recreational shooting on public lands. Presently, the Department and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) can decide to close off public lands to recreational shooting activities. And they can do so unilaterally and unchecked by any other federal entity.
More than 600,000 acres of land that compose the Sonoran Desert National Monument and the Ironwood Forest National Monument are being targeted for closure to recreational shooting, and it’s highly likely that in the coming months, these lands will indeed be closed. This latest string of proposed federal land closures comes on the heels of the BLM sealing off to recreational shooting nearly 450,000 acres of publicly-owned, national monument lands across three states in 2010.
In an effort to both keep more federally-owned lands open to recreational shooting and to impose appropriate oversight over proposed BLM closures, I introduced the Recreational Shooting Protection Act, which would compel the BLM to promote and enhance recreational shooting opportunities on national monument lands and add a much needed layer of Congressional oversight: Under the bill, any recreational shooting restrictions proposed by the BLM would require congressional approval.
In January, the Recreational Shooting Protection Act was part of a legislative hearing in the House Committee on Natural Resources. Just this week, it was included in H.R. 4089, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, which was passed out of the Resources Committee on Wednesday.
I’m hopeful that the Recreational Shooting Protection Act will become law in order to protect the interests of shooting sports enthusiasts and to rein in this Administration’s bureaucratic overreach.
Navajo Generating Station
The Interior Department isn’t the only federal entity eager to drop new regulations on Arizona. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is looking at new regulations that could drive up Arizonans water use costs.
Here’s the issue: The EPA intends to issue a proposed plan for controlling emissions from the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) near Page, Arizona, as the EPA contends that thee emissions contribute to haze at the Grand Canyon.
The final plan will be based on what the EPA determines is the best available retrofit technology for the NGS to control haze-causing air pollutants. It’s important to note that the issues facing the Navajo Generation Station do not center solely on air quality with respect to health impacts – there are no strikes against the area with respect to being in compliance with EPA standards in place to protect public health.
The issue at hand is what additional pollution technologies, if any, need to be added to maintain and improve the visibility at the Grand Canyon.
NGS already voluntarily installed $45 million in upgrades to the plant in 2011. As a result, haze-causing nitrogen oxides have been reduced by 42 percent. Unfortunately, NGS could be asked to spend an additional $1 billion on further upgrades. What’s worse, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, an agency of the Obama Administration, evidence is questionable that these costly additional upgrades would result in any perceptible visibility improvement at the Grand Canyon.
But here’s how water costs for Arizonans rise: At a cost of around $544 million, the additional upgrades could force NGS to close its doors. Therefore, many Central Arizona Project users would see their water rates increase by 13 to 16-percent. Not to mention that about 1,000 people would be out of a job and the local economy in Page would be devastated. Last week, I organized a letter with colleagues from the Arizona Delegation to President Obama stressing that the EPA should avoid threatening critical regional jobs and increasing water prices for Arizonans by mandating additional and unnecessary upgrades for NGS. The EPA can deem the existing upgrades made by NGS as the technology needed to control haze and therefore not jeopardize the health and wellbeing of the affected Tribes, the state economy, and critical water supplies. I’ll be sure to keep your interests in mind as this issue develops further.
Finally, I’d like to send my deepest condolences to the families and friends of the seven United States Marines who lost their lives in the tragic helicopter collision in Yuma last week. Their service, courage, and sacrifice embody the best of our country, and they will not be forgotten.
Should you have any questions or comments, please feel free to visit my website http://flake.house.gov to send me an e-mail.
Posted by Tony GOPrano at 1:00 PM