Wicker Urges Secretary Buttigieg to Leave Liberal Priorities Out of Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Implementation

May 4, 2022

 Click here to watch Wicker’s remarks.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today delivered the following remarks during the Department of Transportation Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Priorities hearing, which featured testimony from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Remarks as delivered:

Thank you, Madam Chair. And I do appreciate the Secretary being with us today. And also, I appreciate the way he and his team have worked with our offices on getting funds to local communities and to the states in a way that will provide for infrastructure and jobs and better transportation around the country. 

Transportation plays a foundational role in developing, shaping, and advancing our economy. We need a transportation system that enables people and goods to move safely and efficiently. Last year, Congress passed the largest infrastructure bill in U.S. history. This legislation will make substantial investments in hard infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, railroads, ports, airports, pipelines, and broadband. And I will say that members of this committee and members of the Senate worked day-in and day-out with Secretary Buttigieg and other members of the Cabinet and the Administration on specific provisions of this legislation as we hammered out the specifics. 

The historic package, the infrastructure legislation, was carefully crafted to reflect bipartisan agreement among members of this committee. But the way it is implemented will be crucial in determining whether Americans actually see its benefits. The White House and Department of Transportation are responsible for implementing this law as is written. Yet so far, that has not always been the case. For example, I joined Senator Capito's letter to the Secretary expressing deep concern about the Federal Highway Administration's memorandum that discourages states from expanding highway capacity. 

 Madam Chair, at this point, I would like to enter into the record an opinion piece by the editorial board of The Wall Street JournalHow to Kill American Infrastructure on the Sly. Basically, let me just quote if I might, some portions of this editorial, “The White House Council on Environmental Quality is revising rules under the National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA] for permitting major construction projects. CEQ chair Brenda Mallory says the changes will ‘provide regulatory certainty’ and ‘reduce conflict.’ Instead, they will cause more litigation and delays and raise construction costs if they don't kill projects outright.” 

 Speaking further and later on in the piece about NEPA, “While the 1970 law was intended to prevent environmental disasters, it has become a weapon to block development. The Trump Administration sought to fast-track projects by limiting NEPA reviews on environmental effects that are directly foreseeable, for example, how a pipeline's construction would affect a stream it crosses. Some liberal judges, however, have interpreted NEPA broadly to require the study of the effects that indirectly result from a project such as CO2 emissions. Now the Biden administration is mandating this.”

 And I would interject at this point. I certainly hope that does not continue to be the case.

 Continuing to quote, “CEQ’s new rule will require agencies to calculate the ‘indirect’ and ‘cumulative impacts’ that can result from individually minor but collectively significant actions taking place over a period of time. This means death by a thousand regulatory cuts for many projects.” End of quote. 

 And I would simply say that I share the concerns of the writers of this editorial that many of the projects and many of the hopes we had coming out of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act will not, in fact, be easy to accomplish. 

 Separately, the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration is requiring motor carriers that want to participate in the pilot program for 18- to 21-year-old truck drivers to have a registered apprenticeship program with the Department of Labor. There was no mention of either the Department of Labor or a registered apprenticeship programs in that provision of the statute, again, which was hammered out very deliberately and carefully between Republicans and Democrats in conjunction with members of the Administration. 

 Additionally, Department of Transportation is requiring applicants for major grant programs such as the Port Infrastructure Development Program, Mega, or RAISE programs to consider climate change and environmental justice in order to receive funding, despite no reference to those terms in those parts of the bill.  I've heard from constituents who have decided not to apply because of these burdensome additional conditions. 

 The Administration should not be using this carefully crafted bipartisan law and carefully worded bipartisan law as an opportunity to insert its own liberal priorities. Nominating personnel is another key part to implementing this bill and ensuring the safety and efficiency of our transportation system.

 The FAA is currently without a Senate confirmed administrator. We need one soon. Additionally, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy needs the staff and resources to improve its facilities, upgrade the training, and keep students safe. I was pleased to see that the budget proposal includes an additional $11 million to begin addressing the campus’s deferred maintenance and to hire adequate staff. I hope the Secretary will ensure that this excellent school has the resources it needs.

 The ongoing supply chain issues plaguing our economy are well known to the committee. Implementing the infrastructure law in a timely and effective manner will help address many of those issues. But there are also more near-term solutions to consider. The Senate recently passed Senator Klobuchar and Senator Thune’s Ocean Shipping Reform Act. With unanimous support, this bill includes key provisions from the FREIGHT Act, which I authored, and I urge the House to pass it without delay.

 So, at any rate, it's good to have our friend, Secretary Buttigieg, with us today to iron out some of these issues. And I look forward to his testimony.