Memo to Boehner: Keep Keystone pipeline out of the highway bill

Well, we have a highway bill proposal. The House of Representative’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is set to mark up a bill, said to be $260 billion over five years, today. But, like anything in Washington, the bill has little chance of passing. And once again, it will be because our lawmakers know not how to get American cruising down the highway, but rather only how to put up roadblocks.

In addition to differences that must be smoothed over with what the Senate will likely put forth, chief among those being that the current Senate proposal would provide $109 billion over two years, the House version will likely include a controversial oil pipeline project – the Canada to Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline - already rejected by President Barack Obama earlier this year.

House Speaker John Boehner told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that any highway bill will include the Keystone pipeline proposal before it leaves the House. With little Democratic support, this sounds like a non-starter in terms of reconciling any House and Senate highway bills, leaving transportation and our deteriorating roads once again looking for short-term fixes.

There is a chance, Boehner said, that the highway bill will not have the Keystone provision. That chance, however, is only if the $7 billion program passes before then, which seems unlikely at this point.

“If (Keystone) is not enacted before we take up the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, it will be part of it,” Boehner said.

The highway proposal unveiled by U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-FL) on Tuesday includes many trucking-friendly initiatives, including higher weight limits and size increases, in addition to securing funding for thousands of much-needed infrastructure projects around this country. It also includes truck parking initiatives and other crucial safety provisions such as crashworthiness testing programs.

While there will be plenty of healthy discussion about the bill – allowing for each item to be included or not based on its merits - there should be no discussion about an oil pipeline. It doesn’t belong in a highway infrastructure bill and serves as a reminder that our politicians don’t always have our nation’s best interests at heart.

I’m not here to judge whether the Keystone project is a valid project or not, it may well be. But it needs to be debated and voted on based on its own merits, not used as a political football that only serves to put a further stranglehold on needed funding to improve our infrastructure, ensure thousands of construction jobs at a time when our nation really needs them, and to make our roadways safer.

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