Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bush answer to less driving? Slash clean-air programs!

As you know, high gas prices mean people are driving a little less. The Transportation Department confirmed yesterday that “vehicle miles traveled” fell by 3.7 percent in May from the previous year. http://www.dot.gov/affairs/dot10208.htm

A side effect, of course, is that people are paying less in gas taxes. (It seems like only yesterday, doesn’t it, that Presidential candidates McCain and Clinton were calling for a “gas tax holiday?”) And so less money is available for building highways, repairing bridges, etc.

And so what does the Bush administration propose to do about this? Why slash clean-air programs!

This is a short-sighted and deplorable way to deal with the situation.

We are told that Transportation Secretary Mary Peters today will unveil proposed “reforms” for consideration next year by Congress, when it takes up transportation legislation.

Among those “reforms,” we are told, includes elimination of a much-needed program to reduce congestion and clean up air pollution. (The Transportation Dept. boasts of it here: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/cmaqpgs/index.htm ) This program goes by the ugly acronym of CMAQ.

It was revised a few years ago by Congress, which ordered DOT to focus more spending on cleaning up dirty diesel engines – absolutely the most cost-effective use of such money. DOT, unfortunately, has basically tried to sandbag the program, and now wants to kill it altogether.

This would be a missed opportunity to clean up dirty diesel pollution and improve air quality across much of the nation.

We are told that DOT also may propose weakening or the Clean Air Act program aimed at making sure that transportation projects don’t worsen air quality. (Known in the jargon as conformity) and may seek to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act as well.

Under the Bush administration, DOT has often been viewed as an arm of the car industry. (You may recall that DOT lobbied Congress to try to block California’s attempt to enforce its greenhouse gas standards for motor vehicles.) Now it appears to be a leg of the asphalt lobby.

Fortunately, Congress will have the final say in this matter. Let’s hope they have more sense than “Polluter” Peters.

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