This week the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee unveiled and subsequently marked up a comprehensive transportation reauthorization bill. The legislation, S. 2302 (America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019), was reported out of committee by a unanimous vote. Tucked in the 500 plus page bill are two provisions that grandfather higher gross vehicle truck weight limits on state roads in North Carolina and Kentucky.
In North Carolina, trucks traveling on state roads may haul up to 90,000 pounds on five axles. Several state roads, including critical arteries that serve forest products facilities near the coast, have been posted with signs indicating that they will be converted to federal interstates. Without securing a grandfather provision, the weight limit on these routes would automatically drop to 80,000 pounds on five axles. This issue has been a high priority of the North Carolina Forestry Association and its member companies who have been taking their message to Capitol Hill and other key decision makers. There is a similar provision for state roads that are slated to become interstates in Kentucky. Inclusion of these two provisions is encouraging for the prospects of the FRA-supported Safe Routes Act, which we are advocating to be part of a final transportation bill that may come together in 2020. As expected, Safe Routes did not make it into S. 2302. Our cosponsors for the bill do not sit on the Senate EPW Committee. In the House, however, the lead sponsor (Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI)) is a member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee as are two of the bill’s cosponsors. FRA is advocating for the inclusion of Safe Routes into the House’s version of a transportation reauthorization measure which will be compiled later this year and into early 2020. The current transportation bill (the FAST Act) expires on September 30, 2020.
Federal Forest Management Reform and Biomass
Yesterday, Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced that they will be introducing federal forest management legislation after the August congressional recess. The press release can be found here. FRA received a heads up from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee staff that this legislation was being developed, but timing was uncertain. We expect the legislation will authorize new tools for the Forest Service to expedite critical forest management projects on federal forest lands. These provisions will be paired with biomass market incentive language designed to create demand for low value material generated from these projects.
As soon as legislative text is available, FRA will provide an analysis and recommendations for positioning. On its face, however, we are encouraged that this difficult issue is being pursued on a bipartisan basis in the Senate.