May 20 — Freight transport, port and emissions reduction related transportation policy will be high on the agenda of Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) should he succeed in joining the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee next year.
Lowenthal—whose district includes the busy port of Long Beach—is rallying the freight industry to support his bid to replace Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.) on the House transportation panel. Hahn, who cofounded the bipartisan House Ports Caucus and whose district adjoins Lowenthal's, is giving up her seat to run for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Lowenthal, who joined Congress in 2013, said he has been vying for the seat since he became a House member.
“I accepted the fact that Congresswoman Hahn was there on the committee already and that you couldn't have two members of the ports of LA and Long Beach on the committee,” he said during a May 11 briefing with the Coalition for America's Gateways and Trade Corridors. “My first step is to make sure that next year I get on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.”
The bill would establish a freight trust fund supported with a 1 percent user fee on all freight shipments. Lowenthal said improving the nation's freight infrastructure will require a long-term, dedicated funding source. He estimates the fee would raise about $8 billion.
Trust fund money would be split evenly between a formula grant program and a competitive grant program. About 5 percent of competitive grant funding would be set aside for the development of technology to reduce emissions, which is an issue Lowenthal championed as a California state senator.
The bill is a preview of what Lowenthal plans to do should he be appointed to the House transportation panel. The lawmaker's top transportation priorities would be advocating for the freight industry, including ports, and for environmentally conscious policy, a Lowenthal aide told Bloomberg BNA.
However, it could be some time before freight bill gets a spotlight in the House. Congress approved the FAST Act (Pub. L. No. 114-94), a five-year highway and transit reauthorization, last year that established a $6.3 billion highway freight program and also provided $4.5 billion for a discretionary freight grant program. Lawmakers have touted the freight policy as a major step forward. And while Lowenthal agrees, he thinks more should be done.
“We need something that's in a lock box, that's dedicated, that...basically those that go to use the system pay for the system,” Lowenthal told Bloomberg BNA. “Without that we will fall further and further behind in the ability of moving goods throughout the nation. And that's what I'm going to champion if I'm on the committee.”
Cosponsors for the bill include Transportation and Infrastructure panel members Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.). Lowenthal said the measure also has the support of committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).
“They all get it,” Lowenthal said. “Chairman Shuster came out to our district. DeFazio says he supports the idea. Everybody thinks that if you're going to have a sustainable funding stream, which is really important, that this has to be on the table.”
Outlook for Advancement
Lowenthal also said he has spoken with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
Ryan was interested in the idea of dedicated freight funding, but signaled that he plans to hold off while he pursues a larger tax overhaul package, Lowenthal said. He said Ryan further suggested waiting until it was closer to time for the FAST Act to expire.
Still, Lowenthal is optimistic that discussions about establishing a national Freight Trust Fund will begin far in advance of negotiations for the next highway bill. The $10 billion included in the FAST Act for state freight projects is a welcome addition but the total investment needed to modernize and upgrade current freight infrastructure greatly exceeds that funding, he said.
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