Beyond the Stimulus: Congress Lays Down Mass Transit Markers

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During the debate over mass-transit funding in the stimulus bill, TPMDC highlighted the puzzling disconnect between the Obama administration’s calls for investment in sustainable transportation and its low level of actual money to modernize the system.

Now that modernization debate has moved into its next phase, with Congress poised to take up its five-year transportation authorization bill later this spring. The prospect of kick-starting a true greening of U.S. transportation policy has prompted lawmakers to introduce two bills that form a progressive marker for that coming debate.

The first is known as Complete Streets, offered last week by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA). It would ensure that federal transportation spending is apportioned to benefit not only auto drivers but pedestrians and bike riders as well. Complete Streets initiatives have been launched at the state and local level in Minnesota, New York, Washington, California, and elsewhere.

The second green-transit marker bill, known as CLEAN TEA, highlights a growing schism over the distribution of revenue from a possible cap-and-trade climate change regulatory system. CLEAN TEA would ensure that 10% of the revenue from auction of carbon emissions permits goes toward green transportation projects.

The Obama administration has suggested that as much as 20% of auction proceeds could go towards green transit, but Republicans are mounting an early pushback to that effort by insisting that 100% of the proceeds from the system be given back to taxpayers. Look for this question to become a flashpoint during the climate change debate, if and when it finally occurs later this year.

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