By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Last night the House of Representatives passed part of the behemoth transportation bill it is considering over the next month on a 237-187 vote. This section consisted solely of earmarks to Big Oil including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, opening Florida coasts to offshore drilling, a plan to develop oil shale (which isn’t even commercially viable), and building the Keystone XL pipeline. A Congressional Budget Office analysis shows that the drilling proposals together generate only approximately $2 billion, far less than the $50 billion funding gap needed for transportation projects over the coming years.
Even if the drilling could pay for the costs, linking oil and gas development to long-term highway funding is just bad public policy, as Ryan Alexander of the nonpartisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense has explained:
Paying for a couple of years of transportation funding with expected revenues from an increase in oil and gas drilling that will likely take many years to get rolling is not a responsible budget approach… It’s like buying the Ferrari tomorrow because you are sure a raise is coming sometime in the future.”
Originally the transportation bill (H.R. 7, American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012) was one large bill that included transportation funding, drilling, and changes to federal pensions. However, Republicans realized that they would not have the votes for the bill, and so split it into three bills to be voted on separately that will then be spliced back together and sent to the Senate. This was an unusual procedural move designed to shield Republicans from having to take tough votes that won’t be popular with their constituents but also force the bill through.
What is most galling is that none of these bills alone or combined would be able to pay for the costs of transportation generated by this bill. Traditionally, improvements to roads, bridges, and public transportation are funded by the federal gasoline tax, but GOP leaders in the House are taking the unprecedented step to tie funding to an unnecessary and ineffective increase in fossil fuel production. Since it doesn’t even begin to fund our highways, the bill can be considered nothing more than a series of earmarks for Big Oil.
The proposal to fund oil shale from Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) is a particularly nasty earmark. The Congressional Budget Office found the bill would generate no revenue over 10 years and in the short term would cost money to implement the leasing program. The Checks and Balance Project detailed this “boondoogle” in an online ad.
Last night’s vote saw some crossing of party lines, particularly 11 Florida Republicans angered by proposals to drill off of the state’s coasts who voted no on the bill’s passage.