Today, Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) and other House Republicans introduced the Surface Transportation Advanced through Reform, Technology & Efficient Review (STARTER) Act. With President Biden proposing more than $4 trillion in so-called “infrastructure” spending, the STARTER Act provides a much more fiscally responsible approach. This legislation provides long-term funding for surface transportation programs, streamlines burdensome regulations, and prioritizes rebuilding our ailing infrastructure. The STARTER Act is a comprehensive proposal that will bring more taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects online faster and at a more affordable cost.
The best way to revitalize the United States’s infrastructure and modernize the transportation system isn’t just spending taxpayer dollars for the sake of spending money but instead streamlining the process to make building more efficient and less expensive without sacrificing safety. With the introduction of the STARTER Act, we are pleased to see Rep. Graves subscribe to that approach. His legislation would modernize and expand our nation’s infrastructure through regulatory reform and ensure more projects come online faster and cheaper - which means a better deal for taxpayers, infrastructure users, and builders. At its core, the STARTER Act makes infrastructure project reviews more efficient and cost-effective, two things that will spur economic recovery and create jobs.
While the STARTER Act does increase funding levels compared to the FAST Act -- the infrastructure bill that became law in 2015 -- its substantial regulatory reforms counterbalance the negative impact of higher spending. NTU is especially pleased to see the inclusion of many items that we have long fought for. Specifically, we are pleased to see the following provisions in the STARTER Act:
One Federal Decision. This provision would address lengthy permitting and review processes that plague infrastructure projects by placing a two-year timeline for government completion of environmental reviews and by consolidating the process across federal agencies. The new two-year deadline for environmental reviews and authorization for major infrastructure will convey a greater degree of certainty in a growing market and reduce the capability of the federal government to unduly limit the potential of the construction industry.
Efficient Environmental Reviews. This provision would streamline the Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Statement processes under the broken National Environmental Policy Act. Specifically, Environmental Assessments must be prepared within one year, and Environmental Impact Statements in two years and cannot be longer than 150 pages. These streamlined regulations will eliminate delays that hold up projects will have the same impact as increasing funding, and it will let workers get back on the job improving our infrastructure environment.
Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Fee Pilot Program. This provision would authorize the Department of Transportation to conduct a large-scale pilot program to better study how a VMT fee would most efficiently operate. With the rise of electric vehicles and more fuel efficient cars, the current federal excise tax on gasoline is no longer a true user fee model and should be replaced with a VMT fee. A pilot program studying potential pitfalls and benefits of a VMT fee will enable the government to understand this policy in depth before it is enacted on a large scale.
Pilot Program on Use of Innovative Practices for Environmental Reviews. This provision would create a pilot program to permit waivers from some NEPA rules and regulations for a select number of projects that adopt innovative practices. These practices can include integrating environmental harm mitigation strategies, enabling more public discussion in decision making, or focusing on environmental and transportation outcomes rather than processes. We believe this would encourage private sector innovation and potentially bring more projects online faster, all the while protecting the environment.
The regulatory reforms contained in the STARTER Act are a refreshing approach that prior surface transportation reauthorizations have failed to deliver. NTU again commends Ranking Member Graves and Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for their continued dedication to lowering burdensome government barriers and protecting taxpayers.