Transportation committee members in both the House and the Senate are dealing with the issue of whether or not to re-open the Transportation Equity Act for the Twenty First Century (TEA-21). This is the landmark transportation law passed in 1998 that included among other things, what are referred to as "protective firewalls." The purpose of these is to protect the revenue collected for the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) by fuel taxes from being spent on non-transportation related federal programs. The massive highway program is a six year re-authorization of highway construction and other transportation projects around the country. The year 2000 will mark the mid-term of the law's time span and some members of Congress are suggesting that the law be re-opened for corrections and adjustments.
Clearly, the real attraction for opening up TEA-21 for corrections is the large surplus of cash in the HTF. When the original firewalls were built, the intent was to protect the funding from being raided and used for non-transportation related projects, such as social security, veterans' benefits, etc. In the two and a half years since passage of TEA-21, the Highway Trust Fund has benefited from a much larger surplus than expected. Members in both the House and the Senate want to open the Act for corrections and, in doing so, tear down the firewalls. With these protections gone, the surplus currently recorded in the Trust Fund could be diverted to other pet projects. In addition, the funds for the various program distributions would have to be revisited, causing a great deal of turmoil for the respective committees.
Though this may be a bad idea, if it does happen it will present an opportunity for motorcyclists. This would allow us to go back and make an adjustment to the lobbying restrictions placed on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Since the passage of TEA-21, NHTSA has continued to ignore the congressional intent with the assistance of the Department of Transportation Inspector General (IG). The IG reviewed the instances where NHTSA provided opinions as testimony and ruled that NHTSA was within the scope of the TEA-21 language.
Time and politics will determine if the committee chairmen will succumb to the pressures from other congressmen and the administration to allow TEA-21 to be revisited this year.
Methyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether (MTBE) is a compound derived from petroleum that has been in use since the seventies to raise the octane level when pollution regulations required removal of lead in gasoline. When the Clean Air Act (CAA) of 1990 was implemented, MTBE became the additive of choice to raise the oxygenation level of fossil fuels. The CAA required that cars produce less carbon monoxide emissions to meet specified allowable air pollution levels.
Now that the CAA implementation has achieved the required air quality standards, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found extensive MTBE contamination in water supplies around the country. This difficulty has created massive environmental problems. The EPA has classified MTBE as a human carcinogen (cancer causing agent). The governor of California has asked for a waiver from the federal two percent oxygenation requirement for motor fuel. Currently ethanol, a product made from corn, is the recommended replacement for MTBE. Ethanol is currently being produced with the help of a federal subsidy and being used as a fuel additive in the midwest. Whether it could be used as a cost effective substitute for MTBE is an on-going debate. Current production capacity does not even approach that necessary to meet the demand for replacing MTBE.
Several foreign producers of MTBE for use in the US are making claims and filing lawsuits through tribunals established in the World Trade Organization (WTO). They are objecting to restrictions on the use of MTBE imposed by state or local governments such as those proposed in California. According to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) the WTO tribunals allow international corporations to file suits against a nation that enacts legislation or implements regulations that may act as an trade barrier.
MTBE has had its detractors for some time, but the public is only recently becoming aware of the magnitude of the contamination problem. Surrender of US sovereignty regarding international trade agreements has now complicated the process of dealing with contaminated drinking water right here on American soil. Who said Globalization won't affect us here in the US?
Primary night in New Hampshire is American politics at its finest. I was invited to visit the "Live Free of Die" state by the New Hampshire Motorcyclist Rights Organization (NHMRO) to testify at the hearing on the proposed helmet law (see MRF press release #00NR04). The timing coincided with the nation's first presidential primary election, so I had the good fortune to witness "First Night" first hand. I must say it is thrilling to be on site as a historic event takes place. The folks in New Hampshire take their politics seriously. I saw families come to the polls in Londonderry High School where the kids waited while mom and dad went into the voting booths to select their candidate for president. The all important civics lessons being taught here are laying the ground work for future generations of involvement.
We all know what happened in New Hampshire. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was able to tap into the independent voters of New Hampshire a pull out a victory over Gov. George Bush Jr. (R-TX) that was both surprising and substantial in numbers.
New Hampshire's voters vote in the primary according to their registration. Independents are allowed to "change" to a specific party on site, vote for the candidate of their choice, then switch back to an independent status before they leave. At the Londonderry polling place there was a tremendous pile of forms filed that switched people back to Independent. Voter turnout results showed that 51 percent of the registered voters made their way to the poll and 71 percent of the registered Republicans exercised their rights.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently rescinded a proposal to extend regulations concerning workplace safety and inspections to include private homes in which a business is operated. The proposed extension of the rules would have forced home-owners to meet the same safety requirements imposed on a traditional business. The rule changes were an attempt to include the recent expansion of telecommuters and internet businesses that are working out of the home. It would also hold employers responsible for working conditions for their employees who work at home.
The House Education and Workforce Oversight Subcommittee held a hearing to address the idea of home work place inspections and hear testimony on OSHA's proposal. During the hearing a conflict arose between content of internal documents presented to the subcommittee stating the OSHA position and with the testimony presented by Assistant Labor Secretary Charles Jeffress. Mr. Jeffress' prepared testimony affirmed that the OSHA position does not apply to an employee's home and that the agency will not hold employers liable for work activities in employees' home offices. The testimony affirmed in other words, that OSHA has not and will not inspect home offices. Although he was pleased with the direction of the testimony from Mr. Jeffress, Subcommittee Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) has plans to draft legislation to clarify the OSHA position on inspecting home offices. Jeffress did not feel legislation was necessary. He believed the situation could be handled with a strong internal directive.
It sounds like an interesting situation is heating up in Florida. According to the National Journal, the decision by House Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Tillie Fowler (FL-R) to abide by her pledge to serve only four terms has set off a scramble for her seat in Congress. Representative Fowler ran unopposed in her last three general elections. Her Republican dominated district is centered in Jacksonville.
The real race is in the Republican primary. The leading GOP candidate is Ander Crenshaw who was elected to the state House in 1980 and, after serving three terms, was then elected to the state Senate in 1986. Crenshaw is clearly the favorite of local party officials. Crenshaw helped the motorcyclists in Florida with their rider education bill. Although Crenshaw has not yet officially filed for the race, his looming candidacy seems to have cleared the field of any other high profile opponents.
Gregg Trude, a motorcycle sales manager, has already filed Crenshaw's seat. Trude, a local Republican, formally announced his candidacy saying, "I have had a passion for this seat and this country for a long time." He ran in the Republican primary in 1996 against Fowler receiving 11 percent of the vote. Trude commented that while Crenshaw is a "nice guy," he is "full of old-style thoughts and ideas ... Republicans will lose control of the House unless they get some people with a backbone and new blood running." Trude has set a goal of raising $100,000 by April but acknowledged, "I can't compete with Crenshaw financially." Area motorcyclists will have to decide soon who to support and commit to work together.
MRF DC will be back soon with more news from our nation's capital. Anyone with an e-mail address can receive MRF DC. Simply send a request to MRF-NEWS.org and they will be added to our list. I hope you've found the information contained in MRF DC useful. If you appreciate the work MRF is doing in our nation's capitol, please help us to remain a strong voice for all motorcyclists by becoming a member. You can join online at the MRF website <http://www.mrf.org>, or contact Bev Waters at 202-546-0983 in our Washington office and she'll be happy to send you an application.
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