While many of us have been sending letters asking that walking-biking trails get some funding in the new Highway bill, I am sickened to learn where the funding may come from: Congress is selling the wilderness.
To finalize a transportation package held up by a funding gap, Congress needs to scrape up the extra $14 billion needed—for essentials including roads and bridges—because the existing pot of Highway Trust Fund money is short.
Of the three bills that propose how to fill the gap, HR 3408, aka the PIONEERS Act, is anti-environmental. I was suspicious of a bill named after some noble, fictionalized Americans dead long enough to be co-opted by politicians. After a glance at the MapLight report about the PIONEERS Act, my suspicions were confirmed.
With PIONEERS, the GOP is pushing drilling in Alaska as a means to fill the funding gap, including trespassing into Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The act provides a free pass to oil- and gas-drilling corporations. But as wildlife is sacrificed on the altar of fossil fuels, only a measly $4.3 billion can be sucked out of that wilderness in a decade. So they threw permitting of the Keystone XL Pipeline into this bill as well.
There were futile attempts to curb the potentially devastating environmental impacts of the PIONEERS Act—provisions to protect sensitive coastline areas, including that of California—but they were a no-go. Why would the GOP support that?
Ed Markey, D-Mass., attempted to belatedly correct the accidentally obtained royalty-free drilling leases oil companies bagged in the 1990s, and make them pay past-due royalties before going on to ruin more pristine natural areas, but the GOP was firm in representing oil and gas interests. After all, they'd been well-paid to sell the wilderness. The PIONEERS Act passed by a 237 to 187 vote (21 Democrats voted yes and 21 Republicans voted no).
According to campaign-contribution data reported by the Center for Responsive Politics, the Republican sponsor of the PIONEERS Act, Congressman Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., received $39,750 in contributions from the oil and gas industry in the last three years. (The Koch brothers gift him, too.)
Lamborn gets more money from that industry than all the others that support him, including war contractors. According to the MapLight analysis, industry supporters of the bill, including multinational producers, gave 7.6 times as much to House members who voted yes on the bill, an average of $44,433 compared to the $5,840 average given to those who voted no.
For more, see www.maplight.org.