Meet the D.C. power crowd, part 2: Senate Environment, Commerce committees

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | Wednesday, February 25, 2015

In the U.S. Senate, jurisdiction over transportation policy, funding and motor carrier safety falls to separate committees, and it’s important for truckers get to know and understand the committees and lawmakers that make transportation decisions.

For issues related to highways, bridges and infrastructure, the Environment and Public Works Committee, also known as EPW, carries much of the load.

The Senate leadership change ushered in a new chairman, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and moved Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to the position of ranking member.

The committee met Wednesday, Feb. 25, to discuss the need for a new highway bill.

Inhofe, a conservative Republican, and Boxer, a liberal Democrat, rarely fall on the same side of a political issue – unless it involves improving America’s transportation infrastructure.

When their roles were reversed in the 113th Congress, Boxer and Inhofe made up two of the committee’s “big four” who laid the blueprint for MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century.

MAP-21, which became law in 2012, set policy and funding levels at $109 billion over two years. It technically expired in September 2014, but Congress has passed an extension that will last until May 31. It will be committees like Senate EPW that will continue extending it or write a replacement.

Within the EPW Committee is the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

As the 114th Congress took their seats, the senior senator in line for the chairmanship was Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. However, the Republicans shifted some things around and named Sen. David Vitter, R-La., to chair the subcommittee. Vitter was the third leg of the “big four” during MAP-21 discussions.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., is the senior Democrat on the subcommittee and a former chairman.

Issues related to motor carrier safety policy fall to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The chairman in the 114th Congress is John Thune, R-S.D., who has already been vocal on the need to extend the life of the Highway Trust Fund which pays for motor carrier safety programs as well as highways.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., became ranking Democrat in place of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., a former chairman, who did not seek re-election in 2014.

Senate Commerce has an important subcommittee called the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security. This is where specific issues such as electronic logging devices, speed limiters, and truck size and weight are discussed.

Sen. Deb. Fischer, R-Neb., was named the new chairman of the subcommittee. She is set to convene a hearing on March 4 about the need for oversight and reform within the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., has been named ranking member of the subcommittee. He occupies the Senate seat held by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

Watch for the next installment of the D.C. power crowd about the committees and subcommittees that hold the purse strings for transportation.

See related story:
Meet the D.C. power crowd, part 1: House T&I Committee

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