Deal Reached on Transportation Legislation
ACRA has been closely following the transportation bill negotiations this spring, and we learned late this week that the House and Senate have reached tentative agreement on a bill that would continue spending at current levels through September 2014. Full text of the bill was released this Thursday morning and is available here: http://www.rules.house.gov/Media/file/PDF_112_2/LegislativeText/CRPT-112hrpt-HR4348.pdf
The bill has been coupled with legislation to preserve interest rates on federal student loans, and we expect it to pass by Saturday, when the final SAFETEA-LU extension runs out.
The negotiations, which had been bogged down for months, broke through when Republicans abandoned efforts to authorize the Keystone pipeline and in exchange Democrats agreed to allow for more "environmental streamlining”—including creating several new categorical exclusions from environmental assessments.
The bill gives the Secretary of Transportation authority to declare a categorical exclusion from environmental assessments for the following projects:
a project to repair or reconstruct a road, highway, or bridge damaged during a state of emergency or disaster, if the repair or reconstruction is in the same place and the same size as the original, and started within two years of the emergency or disaster;
a project within an existing operational right-of-way; and
a project that receives less than $5 million of federal funds, or a project with a total estimated cost of not more than $30 million and federal funds on the project comprise less than 15% of the total estimate.
In addition, the bill directs the Secretary of Transportation to conduct a rulemaking that will propose new categories of exclusions from environmental assessments, and to start that process within 60 days.
Our work as a trade association on these issues is only beginning. We must combat the perception that CRM and environmental assessments deliver little value and only cause delays. Working with our government relations consultants, we are developing a strategy to reach out to our allies within the environmental community and to rebut many of the anti-CRM arguments we heard during this year’s transportation negotiations.
Part of that strategy will be for our ACRA members to visit with their legislators during the August recess to help them understand more about our industry and the value we deliver. Please mark you calendars for July 25 at 2 p.m. EDT for a webinar in which we will discuss our August recess strategy. We’ll send out a link to register for the webinar in the next few days.
A central strategic goal of ACRA is to protect and advance the cultural resources industry through advocacy and government relations. ACRA members regularly communicate with our legislators and federal agencies to ensure they understand the industry’s business, its impact on the economy, and its impact on cultural preservation and understanding. We make sure that the voice of the CRM industry is heard in Washington, and we partner with like-minded organizations to enhance our influence.
In the Spring of 2012, our top legislative priorities include:
ACRA continues to focus on adding an NAICS code for CRM
The American Jobs Act: Update
The American Jobs Act championed by President Obama has been introduced in the House and the Senate. The Act, in its current form, is a $447 billion package that includes tax cuts and infrastructure spending designed to stimulate job creation. Congressional leadership is negotiating on the best way to route the bill through Congress. The House leadership has referred it to no fewer than 11 committees. On October 11, 2011, the Senate failed to get enough votes to move forward with a version of the President's jobs plan. The procedural measure requires 60 votes to open debate on the bill, and it failed by 2 votes. The legislation is expected again to be brought to the Senate floor after Republicans and Democrats work out a compromise regarding debate rules and amendments. There's a saying in Washington that passing laws is like making sausage—we are keeping a close eye on this bill (especially infrastructure spending) and will update you as soon as we have more clarity on how the sausage will be made this time.
Expedited Infrastructure Projects
On October 11, 2011, the Obama administration announced the selection of 14 infrastructure projects around the country that will be expedited through permitting and environmental review. The complete announcement and a summary of the projects can be found here. Additional information to follow when available.
Governor Rick Scott (R-FL)
The anthropological community (and the MembersOnly listserve) was activate this week when Florida’s governor stated in an interview that "If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I’m going to take that money to create jobs. So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state. Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.” The whole story can be found here.
Apparently an opening salvo heralding changes in Florida’s higher education system, the governor seeks to direct the emphasis of the state’s universities to more technical degrees such as science, engineering, and math. A number of ACRA members have contacted Judy Bense,president of the University of South Florida and an anthropologist, who will be speaking with the governor this week.Governor Scott has been receiving considerable feedback regarding his comments, and ACRA is likely to weigh in as well.
ACHP review of Section 106
The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), as an independant federal agency, was tasked to evaluate the effectiveness of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. The ACHP has completed its retrospective analysis consistent with the requirements of Executive Order 13563, "Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review”.
Happily, the ACHP finds that the current Section 106 regulations are not outmoded, ineffective, insufficient, or excessively burdensome, and therefore should not be modified, streamlined, expanded, or repealed. Their plan, among other things calls for continued review of the regulations on a five-year interval. An analysis of the comments received is also available on thier website (http://www.achp.gov)