Creating Jobs and Keeping Montana Open for Business
Montana's jobs, economy, and way of life depend on a strong transportation infrastructure. We need roads and rail to transport agricultural products and extracted minerals, highways to enable freight movements and provide access to our extraordinary parks and recreational areas, and airports to support passenger travel and our national defense. All are part of our intricate transportation network.
Having served over the years as chairman and ranking member of both the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and its Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, I have had the opportunity to shape national transportation policy. As part of that effort, I have been able to provide our state with the programs and funding necessary to improve Montana's roads, bridges, highways, and rails.
I was one of the key authors of the last major surface transportation bill, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, commonly referred to as the Highway Bill. This bill, which we passed in 2005, brings a total of more than $2.3 billion to Montana for highway construction projects. It has also helped create and sustain more than 18,000 good-paying jobs across the state. The Highway Bill represents a 44 percent increase for Montana over previous funding levels. These funds have helped make the Montana roads safer, and boost Montana's economy.
I'll also keep standing up for improved and expanded transportation options for Montana, including ensuring that Amtrak's Empire Builder route remains open, and exploring the possibility of reopening the southern route. I've also fought for years to get more funding for rural airports, to ensure that Montanans always have access to affordable, reliable air service.
My Work for Montana's Transportation: Highways, Railways, and Aviation
The Jobs and Economic Recovery Legislation
The recently-enacted Jobs Bill included several key transportation funding provisions. As one of five Senators to serve on the Conference Committee reconciling the Senate and House bills, I was able to work with colleagues to ensure a considerable boost in highway funding, largely following the federal funding agreements from the 2005 Highway Bill. This ensured that Montanans will continue to receive strong federal highway funding - funding which takes Montana's unique needs into consideration. Over the next two years, Montana will receive more than $211 million in addition to federal funding beyond the Highway Bill's funding levels, as well as roughly $15 million for transit services.
The Jobs Bill also included nationwide funding for airports and passenger rail. I'm pleased to note that Amtrak has already pledged to spend more than $25 million to address needs for the disabled and hearing-challenged at a number of Montana passenger rail stations.
Keeping Montana in the Highway Bill
In helping write the Safe, Affordable, Flexible, Efficient, Transportation Equality Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) in 2005, I played a major role in developing America's surface transportation policy. I was able to secure nearly $400 million per year for Montana by working with colleagues from both political parties to ensure economic security through highway building, freight movement, and road safety.
In addition to funding Montana's broad needs, and taking into account Montana Department of Transportation determinations, the bill provided funding for a number of vital projects. Those projects include US-93, Taylor Hill Road near Havre, Shiloh Road in Billings, the Kalispell Bypass, US Corridor 2 between Browning and North Dakota, the East Belgrade Interchange, the Great Falls South Arterial, the Russell Street Bridge expansion in Missoula, the I-15 North Interchange, the St. Mary water project bridge near Browning, Going-to-the-Sun Road, the Beartooth Highway near Red Lodge, US-287, MT 16 near Glendive, Bus and Bus-related Facilities statewide, and a host of other projects too numerous to repeat here. Recently, I renewed my work with my House and Senate colleagues to update that 2005 bill with new legislation to benefit the Ekalaka to Alzada road in Carter County, among other things.
Keeping our Small Airports Open
This Congress, through my position as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I am leading the push for legislation to modernize the nation's airports and aviation network. As always, I continue to fight to ensure significant funding for Essential Air Service (EAS) airlines that serve rural communities like Glasgow, Glendive, Havre, Lewistown, Miles City, Sidney, and Wolf Point, and others like them across the country. I am pleased to note that the new EAS provider, Great Lakes Aviation, was able to restore flights at all seven Montana airports. Montanans can once again rely on rural air service.
Finally, despite delays, I have worked with the Transportation Security Administration to get Montana's EAS airports the level of security they require in the post-9/11 world. The new security measures are underway in a number of airports.
Keeping our Railways Open
Keeping Amtrak in Montana is an issue that's very important to me. I'll continue to work to ensure that Amtrak receives the assistance it needs to keep the Empire Builder running. Last year, I cosponsored a bill to increase Amtrak's available funding. That bill dramatically increased Amtrak funding for capital expenses and safety. I'm very pleased to note that the new Amtrak authorization also includes an amendment offered by my friend, Senator Jon Tester, to study the restoration of Amtrak service along the southern Montana route, an idea I eagerly supported. I continue to work to ensure that our agricultural and mineral shippers can get fair rail rates for transportation, while also pushing legislation to provide tax credits for short-line and Class 1 railroads to encourage construction and reduce rail congestion.
Current and Upcoming Transportation Issues in Congress
As the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I am in a unique position to impact the next Highway Bill. In so doing, I fully intend to dedicate myself once again to protecting the programs that were begun under the last two bills. Just as before, I believe that it's vital that we pass a strong Highway Bill to boost our economy, create jobs, and strengthen our transportation system.
Protecting the Highway Trust Fund and the Airports and Airways Trust Fund
Congress is looking at the revenue projections for the trust funds over the next decade, as well as ways to sustain and strengthen our highway and aviation programs. Because both programs are funded by user-fee trust funds, it's important that we have strong trust funds in place and that those funds are spent only on the programs for which they are intended.
I will continue to use my Senate Finance Committee Chairmanship to search for innovative transportation financing ideas. Congress will consider various financing methods, such as tax credits and tax exempt bonds, that can be used to supplement fuel tax receipts to pay for highway, aviation, and transit projects.
Keeping Fuel Prices Affordable
The rising price of fuel is hurting families across Montana. The answer to the current price spike lies in increasing our national energy supply. The research, development, and implementation of refining technologies is under way for a wide variety of cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel, and coal-to-liquid fuel technologies. All of these technologies will put to use the resources that Montana has in abundance, and they will help the Treasure State to live up to its name by playing an important role in the national energy portfolio.
In the short term, incentives must be put in place for conservation and energy efficiency. As chairman of the Finance Committee, I have worked hard and will continue to emphasize the importance of those points in creating tax incentives for hybrid vehicles, green buildings, and high energy-efficiency standards.
Improving Access to Clean Coal Technology
The U.S. has the largest recoverable coal reserve in the world - 275 billion tons - and Montana holds more than 119 billion tons of that. Weaning the U.S. off of oil depends on developing a number of our national and renewable resources. Coal liquefaction is one of the most promising avenues. Full development of the U.S. coal-to-fuel industry could replace imported oil with low emissions diesel made from Montana coal. That is why I have authored and passed tax credits and loan guarantees for coal-to-liquid plants and coal-fired power plants that use cutting-edge technology to significantly reduce the carbon dioxide and other emissions that contribute to climate change.
Leading the Charge to Encourage Biofuel Technologies
Biofuels are an exciting energy source for Montanans. Montana can play an important role in a national energy portfolio through biofuel and cellulosic ethanol production using switchgrass, camelina, forest products, and agricultural byproducts. Clean, renewable, domestic fuel products will lessen our current dependence on foreign fossil fuels, and will put money in the pockets of our farmers and ranchers.
As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I am looking forward to leading the charge on biofuel technology development and implementation. Tax incentives and financing assistance will help to spur development, and work to ensure Montanans get a role to play in, and benefits from, the growing biofuel industry.