DeFazio readies ‘transformative’ infrastructure bill

Zero-emission vehicles, new transit options to be included in plan. Republicans say they have their own ideas

DeFazio says he has big ideas for infrastructure. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
DeFazio says he has big ideas for infrastructure. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 28, 2020 at 7:29pm

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio said Tuesday he will push for a “transformative” infrastructure bill that will aim to eliminate carbon emissions from transportation, encourage the government to build carbon-neutral buildings, make renewable fuels more available to airlines and increase transit options, including rail.

DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, will present what he characterizes as a framework to House Democrats on Wednesday morning, with tentative plans to publicly roll out that framework later in the day.

The House Ways and Mean Committee has scheduled a hearing to examine options for paying for a massive infrastructure package at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

In an interview off the House floor late Tuesday, DeFazio said his plan would be “a definitive departure from our last 70 years” since the 1956 creation of the interstate highway system. 

[House Democrats offer plan for zero carbon emissions by 2050]

“It is going to set the path for the 21st century to defossilize transportation,” he said, referencing the use of greenhouse gas-emitting fuels derived from oil.

The bill will take a multipronged approach to reach that the goal, including calling for transit options to give people an alternative to airlines and automobiles. It will encourage building infrastructure with what DeFazio calls “more climate-friendly” materials, including nanotechnology additives that can help concrete absorb carbon. And it includes building more resilient infrastructure, such as bridges designed to survive extreme weather events, he said.

“We’re looking at every sector under my jurisdiction and attempting to meet the goals of the Green New Deal,” he said. “And we will be creating a heck of a lot of jobs in doing that.” DeFazio said he had presented his ideas to Republicans on the committee and that they urged him to “don’t count us out.”

GOP, too

Minutes after DeFazio spoke to reporters Tuesday, House Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Sam Graves, R-Mo., released a list of GOP principles for the bill, urging Democrats to incorporate their priorities into a broader bill.

But the top item on that list — addressing the long-term sustainability of the Highway Trust Fund — will likely be the biggest source of contention. It’ll also be the topic of the Ways and Means hearing. 

DeFazio has suggested Congress raise the gas tax in part by indexing it to inflation. And groups as diverse as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO, American Public Transportation Association and American Trucking Associations have also backed an increase in the gas tax, which is fixed at 18.3 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.3 cents per gallon for diesel and kerosene.

Republicans remain resistant. 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, has been reluctant to embrace the idea of raising the gas tax.

Graves, meanwhile, has endorsed a mechanism that would allow highway users to pay based on vehicle miles traveled. He cited a report by the state of Washington recommending it move away from fuel taxes to a vehicle miles traveled system to pay for the state’s highways, saying “the report clearly shows that transitioning to a VMT system is a more equitable way to charge drivers for the roads they use, and that we are in fact capable of beginning that transition now.”