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Hanna: It Took Compromise To Pass The Highway Bill

Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

Utica, NY (WIBX) - The House approved the roughly $105-billion transportation bill this afternoon and President Obama is expected to sign it. Congressman Richard Hanna, who played a key role negotiating the bill as Vice Chairman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, says it took compromise to get it passed. “We sat down and tried to negotiate things that we believe are fully appropriate in a bill that’s largely regarded as America’s biggest jobs bill, so why wouldn’t you try to include something like Keystone, which has been held up way too long,” he said.

Republicans gave up their demands that the bill include approval of the controversial Keystone oil pipeline, and less stringent EPA rules on the use of coal ash. “It’s a good bill with good changes, good for New York, adds money in some ways to New York and it’s even better for upstate than past bills in some ways,” he said.

Hanna says although Republicans didn’t get all the concessions they fought for, the bill will still make a significant impact in the state and across the country. “We’re going to do the permitting process, which takes 10 to 14 years, we are going to cut that in half by not eliminating the environmental review process, we are going to make it concurrent so that different things can go on at the same time.” Also, he says there are no earmarks in the bill and New York will have a fully funded transportation bill.

“Even though earmarks are good for some people, it’s a zero sum game, one person’s earmark is another state’s expense. And, more money will go to New York State public transportation because we’ve eliminated and consolidated a couple of programs, so New York State will get $1.4-billion annually, an increase of almost $200-million,” he said. Hanna is the sole Republican from NYS on the powerful transportation committee.

Hanna says the fight to advance the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and stopping the Environmental Protection Agency from defining coal ash as a hazardous material will continue. “We need better rules around that. We don’t need to walk away from our environment, nobody wants dirty water or air, but that would raise the cost of every piece of construction, every construction project in the country, and so I fought back on that but we weren’t successful, but the fight isn’t over yet on Keystone or coal ash, we’ll keep at it,” he said. He says the bill’s passage gives certainty to the construction industry, and allows the state to improve its infrastructure.

A key part of the bill targeting small communities earned Hanna a national award from the Commercial Real Estate Development Association. New York’s 22nd District congressman included language in the bill to give smaller communities a seat at the table. “Small communities have never had a say, 50,000 and less, they never had a seat at the table and because of the languages I had inserted in this bill, all the small communities, Norwich, Herkimer, Rome, were never invited, now will have that option.” The bill also impacts student loan rates, fuel taxes and the federal flood insurance program. The House passed the bill, 373-52. The Senate approved it, 74-19.

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