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VIDEO: Capito, WV DOT Secretary Wriston Discuss Impacts of Biden Administration’s Improper IIJA Implementation

Click here to watch Ranking Member Capito’s questions.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, questioned witnesses about the implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) at the state and local level.

During the hearing, Ranking Member Capito discussed issues surrounding implementation with West Virginia Secretary of Transportation Jimmy Wriston and Executive Director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Jim Tymon.

HIGHLIGHTS:

ADMINISTRATION PLACING BURDENSOME REQUIREMENTS ON STATES DESPITE NOT BEING IN THE IIJA: “When we were negotiating the Surface Transportation Reauthorization in this committee, we talked a lot about greenhouse gas performance measures and we decided not to give the FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) that authority. But they have now, FHWA, has released a proposed rulemaking to establish a greenhouse gas emissions performance measure requiring states to set climate targets.”

SENATOR CAPITO: “So for our state, I guess, what is your reaction to that? Have you seen that? Since we have the diffused population, obviously our emissions are going to be a lot less, and so to improve those is going to be more difficult for us. That's the way I see it. How do you see this?”

SECRETARY WRISTON: “Yeah, here we go again. The law is clear. That provision is not in it. Transportation is not opposed to working toward reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Of course we're not. We’re going to do anything and everything we can, which is exactly why the flexibility that's engrained in the formula programs are so important to be able to flex just the carbon reduction program when the rules told us clearly that we could flex them to 50% of that bucket to a more flexible category. And we did in West Virginia.”

IMPACT OF FHWA MEMORANDUM DISCOURAGING HIGHWAY CAPACITY PROJECTS: “On the guidance that was put out by the FHWA in terms of the memorandum that really discourages new construction. You want to go to maintenance, you want to go to transit, you want to go to bike paths and other things of that nature.”

SENATOR CAPITO: “Is that impacting you, Secretary Wriston? Are you actually seeing it impacting your ability to get approval for certain projects?”

SECRETARY WRISTON: “Well, it certainly is. I had made these projects with the preliminary designs done, particularly in bridges. If I need to add a sidewalk arbitrarily to a bridge, whether I need it or not, then I have to go back to the design and literally redesign the steel that holds that bridge up. It has to be resized. Conversely, going the other way, if I can't add capacity to my interstates, what am I doing to the next generation if I spend tremendous resources on a resurfacing job on I-79 in West Virginia, and don't take care of the added capacity I know I'm going to need in 12 or 15 years? It makes planning impossible.”

WHETHER OR NOT ONE FEDERAL DECISION STREAMLINING PROVISION CODIFIED BY THE IIJA IS ACTUALLY IN EFFECT: “But you know, it was almost like well, Fish and Wildlife has this review, and then what would the Corps of Engineers over here, and then we got Federal Highway Administrator here, and then we have West Virginia DOT here, and then we have West Virginia environmental protection here. And, it just seemed like it was a ping ponging of responsibility, and a lack of communication, and not getting to the approvals that you need to get to get these things moving forward.”

SENATOR CAPITO: “So, Secretary Wriston, One Federal Decision, Mr. Tymon talked about it a little bit, is it actually in effect in your mind? Because now we're talking about if a permitting bill comes up, one of the basis of this, permitting bill, we think, might be that one federal decision would be extended to energy projects, grid projects, and all these other things. We’re the test case here in transportation. Is it working? Is it a reality? What are the problems or what are the good things about?”

SECRETARY WRISTON: The good thing is it's obviously, it is the framework for the FHWA to be the single point and to be the clearinghouse if you will. As the Secretary of Transportation, when I assign someone a project, the first thing I do is put somebody in charge, somebody I can hold accountable. And that's what we have to do with this process is put somebody in charge. You ask if this is working? Absolutely not. It's largely been ignored. We have had discussions at meetings that the acting director was at…there doesn't seem to be a sense of urgency to enact this or to even discuss it very much.”

Click HERE to watch Ranking Member Capito’s questions.

Click HERE to watch Ranking Member Capito’s opening statement.

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