Environmentalists and public health groups today joined together in opposition to anti-environment amendments that have been introduced or are expected when the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) reauthorization (S. 1173) is considered by the Senate. They also voiced concern that expanded transportation funding would favor unnecessary road construction rather than programs that could curb air pollution and sprawl.
“These anti-environment amendments would gut the protections against increased air pollution and environmental damage that communities have fought to preserve in this bill,” said Michael Replogle, Federal Transportation Director for the Environmental Defense Fund. “We must stop proposed amendments that threaten public health and the environment.”
The key anti-environment amendments would:
- take needed funding away from transit systems and redirect these dollars to unnecessary highway projects;
- ignore the clean air goals of congestion reduction and air quality improvement by allowing Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) dollars to be spent on expanding or constructing highways;
- block the implementation of new clean air standards for smog and soot that protect the health of children, the elderly, and those with respiratory illness;
- weaken the National Environmental Policy Act by allowing environmentally destructive projects to proceed without adequate evaluation, oversight, or review; and
- make the Transportation Enhancements program “optional”, thereby gutting one of the most important sources of support for very popular bike and recreation trails and community-building projects across the country.
“The environmental and public health communities are unified in their commitment to defeating these amendments,” said Kaid Benfield, Transportation Program Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “When will the anti-environmental forces realize that the American public supports these programs and efforts to clean-up their communities?”
Environmental groups also voiced concerns about transportation budget discussions among congressional leaders this week. “Transit and other alternatives to highway construction must be given a fair share of any new funding,” said David Hirsch, Transportation Policy Coordinator at Friends of the Earth.