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GOP tries to defund Biden infrastructure law despite train derailments, lead contamination

Republican lawmakers are touting money allocated to their states under the law as they work to cut its funding.

By Oliver Willis - July 18, 2023
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Train derailment in Montgomery County, PA
A screenshot from Philadelphia station WPVI shows a train that derailed in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, on July 17, 2023. (Screenshot from WPVI-TV 6abc)

House Republicans are moving to cut funding for infrastructure programs around the country, while at the same time recent train derailments and highway collapses have highlighted the need for ongoing repairs and maintenance.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in 2021 following unsuccessful attempts by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, to pass an infrastructure bill. The legislation passed Congress when Democrats were in the majority in both houses of Congress, and most Republicans in the House and Senate opposed it.

The House Appropriations Committee is currently considering legislation that will determine funding priorities for federal agencies, including the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for the 2024 fiscal year.

In a summary released by the committee’s Republican majority, the proposed cuts are described as a remedy to “wasteful Washington spending.” “The bill eliminates several programs and makes deep cuts to others, especially those that received large amounts in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” the summary also notes.

The Washington Post reported that the committee is proposing cuts to projects that are designed to improve rail safety and to reduce lead contamination in water pipes.

Recent rail accidents, including a 15-car derailment in Pennsylvania on Monday and the Feb. 3 derailment of a train in East Palestine, Ohio, have put a spotlight on the need for train track safety and maintenance.

The infrastructure law put aside $102 billion in rail funding that the Federal Railroad Administration has said will make the national railway network safer and more reliable and will create jobs.

The Republican proposal also includes at least $876 million in cuts to Amtrak passenger rail service, which the Republican memo described as “overfunded by Democrats.”

“The funding levels proposed in the House FY24 transportation appropriations bill for Amtrak and FRA rail programs will stop the advancement of passenger rail in its tracks,” Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner said in a July 11 statement. “If the proposed levels become law, Amtrak will have to radically reduce or suspend service on various routes across the nation.”

Funding under the infrastructure law is being used by state governments to replace water delivery pipes that contain lead, which the Environmental Protection Agency has warned is an extreme health risk, especially to children. The agency has found that areas with large nonwhite populations are affected by lead contamination at a disproportionately high level.

Despite this, the Republican proposal cuts the budget for the federal Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which states can use to pay for lead line replacement, by 64%. Mary Grant, director for the Public Water for All campaign at the advocacy group Food & Water Watch, said in a statement: “House Republicans should be ashamed of themselves. Their spending proposal threatens the very safety of our country’s water and wastewater systems for the sake of political showmanship.”

To become law, the Republican proposal would have to make it through both houses of Congress, including the Democratic-led Senate, where such steep cuts are unlikely to find support.

The attempts to undermine projects funded by the infrastructure law are occurring at the same time Republican officials who voted against the legislation have been criticized for touting the law’s expenditures.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) tweeted on June 27, “Great to see Alabama receive crucial funds to boost ongoing broadband efforts.” But Tuberville was among the 30 Senate Republicans who voted against such funding.

Politico reported that Biden chided such behavior on July 6 during a visit to a clean energy site in South Carolina, while speaking about his “Investing in America” agenda, which includes the infrastructure law:

 “Implementing this legislation also has another transformative impact: All those members of Congress who voted against it suddenly realize how great it is. And they’re bragging about it. As my mother would say, ‘God love them.’”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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