Daily Dirt

Deere’s Ruccolo Testifies Before House Select Committee on Green Transportation Policy, Infrastructure

With global warming, clean energy and job-creating infrastructure projects high on the agenda for Congress and the Obama Administration, and our nation’s primary transportation bill up for Congressional reauthorization, green transportation measures are gaining increasing attention. America’s transportation sector is responsible for approximately one-third of our country’s heat-trapping carbon emissions.

With these political and environmental factors as a backdrop, chairman Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and vice chair Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and the U.S. House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming recently held a hearing on how various transit modes and the methodology and materials to build our transportation system can reduce global warming and cut our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels.

John Deere Construction & Forestry senior vice president of Sales & Marketing, Domenic Ruccolo, testified before the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, advocating making infrastructure projects greener through the use of more productive and efficient construction equipment that gets the most work out of every gallon of fuel used.

Ruccolo’s testimony came during the Committee’s hearing on “Constructing a Green Transportation Policy: Transit Modes and Infrastructure.”

Among other action items, he urged the Federal government to take steps to support further efforts within the construction equipment industry to improve equipment productivity and efficiency and reduce environmental impacts.

“Collaboration and cooperation between the public and private sectors are needed to investigate and fund the research and development of new standards and technologies to further improve equipment productivity and efficiency,” Ruccolo said. “The Federal government has not consistently assisted the off-highway equipment industry in the past on such an effort, concentrating instead upon the over-the-road sector.

“However, by recognizing the essential role non-road equipment will play in transforming the transportation and other sectors of the economy to achieve ambitious and necessary greenhouse gas reductions, we can see that appropriate investment by the Federal government into non-road technologies would create substantial environment returns,” Ruccolo said.

Ruccolo went on to point out that any future strategic modal shifts from road transport to rail and public transportation systems to help offset growth in greenhouse gas emissions would require construction equipment to build and maintain the infrastructure foundation for the shifts.

“By supporting the non-road equipment industry to make machines more productive and efficient, the Nation will be able to achieve these shifts and realize the environmental benefits more quickly and with lest cost,” Ruccolo explained.

Ruccolo also addressed the vital relationship between infrastructure investment and job creation. “John Deere witnesses firsthand the dramatic impact of the current financial crisis on its workforce, dealers and customers,” Ruccolo said.

“There are over 2 million construction workers currently without jobs. Without a doubt, we are all ready, willing and able to get back to work for the Nation to help rebuild its economy and create the environmentally sound infrastructure it deserves. Predictable, adequate and effective use of program funding to achieve these ends should be a policy priority.”

Ruccolo then asked Congress to trust national experts regarding the financial requirements to accomplish healthy infrastructure funding for the next Highway and Transit bill, quoting the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission’s estimate that $225 billion is needed annually.

Oberstar Pushes Congress For Vehicle Mileage Tax

Representative Jim Oberstar (D-MN), House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman said Tuesday that he wants Congress to enact a mileage-based tax on cars and trucks to pay for highway programs now rather than wait years to test the idea.

Oberstar said he believes the technology exists to implement a vehicle mileage tax (VMT) and sees no point in waiting years for the results of pilot programs since such a tax system is inevitable as federal gasoline tax revenues decline.

“Why do we need a pilot program? Why don’t we just phase it in?” said Oberstar, who is drafting a new six-year transportation bill to fund highway and transit programs that is expected to total around a half trillion dollars.

A congressionally mandated commission on transportation financing alternatives recommended switching to a VMT, but estimated it would take a decade to put a national system in place.

“I think it can be done in far less than that, maybe two years,” Oberstar said at a House hearing. He was responding to testimony by Representative Earl Blumenauer, (D-OR), who recommended that the transportation bill include pilot programs in every state to test the viability of a mileage-based tax.
Blumenauer said public acceptance, not technology, is the main obstacle to a VMT.

Pilot programs “would be able to increase public awareness and comfort and it would hasten the day we could make the transition,” Blumenauer said.

“I’m at a point of impatience with more studies,” Oberstar said. He suggested that Representative Peter DeFazio, (D-OR), chairman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, set up a meeting of transportation experts and members of Congress to figure out how it could be done.

The tax would entail equipping vehicles with GPS technology to determine how many miles a car has been driven and whether on interstate highways or secondary roads. The devi
ces would also calculate the amount of tax owed
.

“At this point there are a lot of things that are under consideration and there is also a strong need to find revenue,” Oberstar spokesman Jim Berard said. “A vehicle miles-traveled tax is a logical complement, and perhaps a future replacement, for fuel taxes.”

Gas tax revenues — the primary source of federal funding for highway programs — have dropped dramatically in the last two years, first because gas prices were high and later because of the economic downturn. They are forecast to continue going down as drivers switch to more fuel-efficient and alternative fuel vehicles.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has ruled out raising gas taxes to make up for the funding shortfall, and the White House rejected a mileage-based tax earlier this year when LaHood suggested a VMT as a viable way of funding our transportation infrastructure. Now, Congress is thinking perhaps a VMT needs to be considered as one of several approaches to funding our transportation infrastructure.

“The funding of the Highway Trust Fund is a complex issue that will require consultation with Congress and consideration of a number of creative ideas,” said Transportation Department spokeswoman Jill Zuckman. “The Secretary looks forward to working with Chairman Oberstar and others as they consider how to keep the Highway Trust Fund going.”

A VMT has been unpopular in some states where it has been proposed. Critics say it unfairly penalizes drivers who live in rural areas and intrudes on privacy.

“When we can solve the equity issues to a majority’s satisfaction in the Congress, when we can solve the privacy issues to the satisfaction of the American people, we can look at moving forward, but I just don’t think we have the data or the experience right now to say we can set a timeline or a deadline,” DeFazio said in a recent interview.

What would be unfair would be collecting funds from people who never use our highways or transportation systems. It’s difficult to understand how a VMT could be considered as unfair, especially if the system differentiates between Interstate and other types of highway travel. As noted above, funding the Highway Trust Fund is a complex problem. There is no simple solution but these problems don’t change a simple basic fact, if the people who use the roads don’t pay for them who should?

Speaking at a press conference organized by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the American Public Transit Association (APTA) last week, Oberstar received the groups’ “bottom line” report of spending needs to maintain and improve transportation infrastructure.

Oberstar said he did not expect that the Highway Trust Fund will require another infusion of money from the government’s general fund before a new highway spending plan has been passed. He intends to stick to a timetable that will put a new surface transportation bill before the House by June 1, and get the bill passed by Congress by Sept. 30.

Oberstar said that the new bill will include provisions for freight transportation on highway, rail and water, and also push reforms in the Department of Transportation to give greater emphasis to intermodal transportation.

He did not give details, but in the past Oberstar has said he wants to have a high-level official to be responsible for DOT’s intermodal programs, a restructuring of the Federal Highway Administration and a way to reduce the amount of time it takes to get projects authorized and funded.

John Horsley, AASHTO executive director, said that the U.S. will need to invest $225 billion a year for the six-year span of the bill’s life to upgrade highways, reduce congestion, and give more passengers the option of riding public transportation instead of driving. The estimate is close to ones done by the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission and another congressional commission that studied highway infrastructure policy and financing.

Greg Sitek

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