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December 14, 2011

Piecing Together the Oil Independence Puzzle

Bike laneEarlier today the Senate Commerce Committee approved the section of the larger transportation bill relating to interstate commerce and safety, which would provide direction for much of our nation’s freight movement over the next two years. Largely due to procedural frustrations voiced by committee Republicans, the bill passed on party lines, 13-11.

This section will now be stitched together with the highway section, passed earlier, and in the future paired with transit and funding titles to complete the entire transportation bill.

Behind the partisanship of today's vote are several provisions that will help this bill bring our transportation system into the 21st century:

First, the Commerce section includes national transportation objectives and goals that establish the vision for what our transportation system should achieve. This is absolutely critical in moving away from an earmark-laden system towards a performance-based transportation program that identifies goals, helps our cities and states plan appropriately, then selects the projects that will help us reach those goals. 

Key among those objectives is the goal of energy conservation and reducing transportation energy use. Our transportation system drives our addiction to oil, guzzling roughly two-thirds of all the oil used nationwide. By reducing transportation energy use, we will cut our dependence on oil.

Second, the Commerce committee adopted an amendment from Senator Begich (D-AK), which would help make our streets safer for all users, including cyclists and pedestrians, not just drivers. This amendment, which passed with unanimous bi-partisan support, would require the Department of Transportation to set safety standards for both motorized and non-motorized users. People around the country are looking for cleaner, oil-free transportation choices, such as biking and walking, and this provision will help ensure that our streets are safe for everyone.

Third, the bill includes provisions from Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ) to treat our movement of freight as a multi-modal system, not just a web of highways. This will ensure that goods move around the country in the most efficient manner, thereby reducing oil consumption and pollution.

The bill passed today in the Senate Commerce Committee is just one piece of the puzzle, but it will ensure that the finished product is a future less dependent on oil. Momentum is building to invest in our transportation system, it is now up to the rest of the Congress to keep moving on a transportation bill for the 21st century.   

-- Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Associate Washington Representative for the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign

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