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April 21, 2022 3:41 PM, EDT

White House Eyes Emissions, Fuel Prices as Congress Finalizes Supply Chain Bill

AgendaSens. Amy Klobuchar (left) and John Thune speak during a hearing. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

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The Biden administration continues to pursue initiatives meant to ease the impact of fuel prices on industries as congressional leaders finalize legislation to enhance supply chain connectivity.

A $6.4 billion multiyear program the U.S. Department of Transportation unveiled on April 21 aims to assist states with developing carbon reduction strategies, an effort by the administration to respond to climate change amid rising fuel prices.

Under the comprehensive funding program established by the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, or IIJA, state departments of transportation would be able to utilize such funds for myriad emissions mitigation programs.

These include projects linked to congestion pricing, truck stop and parking projects, port electrification systems, charging infrastructure, biking or micro-mobility options, or Bus Rapid Transit.

“As the sector generating the most carbon emissions in the U.S. economy, transportation must play a leading role in solving the climate crisis,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on April 21. “The carbon reduction program will help reduce pollution from transportation and move us closer to the president’s ambitious goal of cutting emissions in half by 2030.”

The Federal Highway Administration indicated it anticipates such projects would achieve national performance goals for improving the flow of freight nationwide. “This new program provides states and local agencies in both urban and rural areas the flexibility and funding needed to reduce emissions and build a more sustainable transportation network that will benefit all travelers,” Deputy Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack said.

“The bipartisan infrastructure law makes transformative investments in our nation’s transportation infrastructure, and this is one of the key programs that will help address the climate crisis,” she added.

President Joe Biden has been touting IIJA’s enactment as he looks to engage policymakers in adopting climate change initiatives and reduce domestic fuel prices. “One of the things I did: I went out and got a lot of other countries to agree that they would release petroleum from their oil reserves,” Biden said April 19 in New Hampshire.

The president recently announced his administration would allow gasoline with a 15% ethanol blend to be sold in the summer. Before that, he announced a move to release 1 million barrels of oil per day from the country’s strategic reserves, the largest release from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

On Capitol Hill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed support for the administration’s directives. She also insists her caucus will finalize supply chain-centric legislation designed to facilitate access to goods at ports. Congress, which recessed for Easter, resumes its legislative agenda the week of April 25.

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“The administration’s new action builds on bold steps in recent weeks to bring down gas prices, including by ordering an historic release from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve and working with our allies to secure releases from strategic reserves around the world,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) said this month. “At the same time, we are fighting to accelerate our nation’s transition to a clean energy future, crucial for achieving energy independence and combating the climate crisis.”

The top Republicans on the U.S. House transportation panel, however, pushed back on DOT’s emissions initiative, arguing it did not reflect the intent of the $1 trillion IIJA law.

“Instead of heeding Republicans’ calls for the Federal Highway Administration to rescind its December guidance, which they know is causing confusion among states, today’s announcement echoes the administration’s earlier guidance and blatant misapplication of the IIJA,” said Republican Reps. Sam Graves of Missouri and Rodney Davis of Illinois — Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Highways and Transit Subcommittee ranking members, respectively. Their reference to FHWA pertained to a Dec. 16 memo titled “Policy on Using Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Resources to Build a Better America,” interpreted to suggest the administration is proposing states prioritize repairs to existing transportation corridors.

“The FHWA, Department of Transportation and Biden administration need to stop prioritizing their woke agenda over implementation of the infrastructure law as it was written,” they said.

Meanwhile, congressional Democratic leaders are readying formal bicameral negotiations to arrive at a final version of a bill likely to propose more than $50 billion for production of semiconductor chips. They also are aiming to reform freight operations at ports. The Senate and the House recently passed similar versions of their supply chain-centric measures.

Provisions related to the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), are considered in the package. The bill targets the Federal Maritime Commission by requiring carriers to issue certain reports to the commission each quarter. It also would pave the way for the registration of shipping exchanges. The measure is backed by senior leaders, such as Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

According to Energy Information Administration data released April 18, the national average price of diesel was $5.101 a gallon.