Drilling for highway revenues could face controversy from both sidesJanuary 30, 2012
By Stephen Lee Davis
House leaders have made it known that their transportation bill will expand oil drilling and exploration to fill part of the yawning gap between what the Highway Trust Fund gathers each year in gas taxes and what is spent. That provision is controversial, no doubt, but the opposition is coming from more than just one side.
Some conservative think tanks and transportation policy experts are opposing the idea — though not because they think we shouldn’t be drilling for more oil everywhere possible, but because they believe the principle of a “user fee” for the highway system is one worth protecting.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative/libertarian think tank, held a session today on Capitol Hill with a title that leaves little mystery about their position: “Don’t Drill And Drive: Weakening The “User-Pays” Highway Funding Principle Would Endanger Our Nation’s Transportation Infrastructure.”
…the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Reason Foundation, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and Natural Resources Defense Council will hold a briefing to discuss the importance of preserving the “user-pays/user-benefits principle”— and why proposals that would tie infrastructure funding to expanded energy production threaten the future health of our nation’s transportation system. The panel will feature a diverse range of transportation policy analysts from free-market, fiscal watchdog, and environmental organizations to discuss various aspects of the deeply flawed “drilling for roads” proposal, as well as solutions to long-term funding problems.
Obviously, CEI opposes the measure for very different reasons than an environmental group like NRDC. But could there be some opposition to this funding plan on both sides of the ideological spectrum in the House when this bill is introduced Tuesday?
In the Senate, Republican Sen. Inhofe has already said that expecting new oil drilling revenues to pay for an immediate multi-year transportation bill isn’t a realistic funding solution.
“While Speaker Boehner’s idea may be a long-term revenue source for transportation infrastructure,” said Sen. Inhofe back in November, “we need to focus on the immediate problem of how we will fund a multi-year highway bill. …If this is how the House is able to move the bill forward then I applaud them. But we need money now for transportation; we can’t afford to wait.”
If the drilling proposal wasn’t already controversial enough in the House, Speaker Boehner offered this tidbit on one of the Sunday morning talk shows. Via E&E Publishing and former Streetsblog reporter Elana Schor:
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced yesterday that he will seek to override the president’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline as part of a long-term transportation bill — if the oil link is not already advanced during bicameral payroll tax-cut talks. The move adds a second volatile issue to a typically noncontroversial infrastructure package that his chamber wants to pay for in part by expanding offshore and Alaskan drilling, which is opposed by most Democrats and the White House.
“If [Keystone XL is] not enacted before we take up the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, it will be part of it,” Boehner said of the pipeline in an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” referring to the GOP’s title for its drilling-and-transportation package.
The House bill is expected to be released Tuesday in advance of Thursday’s committee markup.