Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 20, 2014

Toomey Would Skip Most Environmental Reviews in Post-Disaster Rebuilding

When the Senate takes up a bill next week to refill the Highway Trust Fund, it will get a chance to debate an amendment offered by Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey that would speed up construction of transportation infrastructure after natural disasters.

Under Toomey’s amendment, after a disaster has been declared by the president, or an emergency declared by a governor, any damaged or destroyed highway, bridge, or transit facility could be rebuilt in the same location “with the same capacity, dimensions, and design.” The rebuilding projects would be exempt from most environmental reviews and permit requirements.

Disasters like Super Storm Sandy, which ravaged New York and New Jersey in 2012, would be covered by Toomey’s amendment.

Toomey’s expedited process would apply “except when the reconstruction occurs in designated critical habitat for threatened and endangered species.”

“If you had a permit for the original bridge or road and you are simply rebuilding it in the same place, why should another permit be needed?” Toomey asked.

But a coalition of environmental groups sent senators a letter this week urging them to vote “no” on Toomey’s amendment.

They say it would create “the perverse incentive to rebuild in a manner that is not responsive to the known risks that were exposed by what caused the destruction.”

The groups argue that federal law and Federal Emergency Management Agency policy already give state and local officials enough flexibility to deal with post-disaster infrastructure rebuilding.

The coalition opposing Toomey includes the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) which gives the Pennsylvania Republican a lifetime 9 out of 100 rating on its scorecard.

LCV’s political action committee supported Toomey’s Democratic opponent, Joe Sestak, in the 2010 election.

LCV named Toomey one of its “Dirty Dozen” in that election – its designation for candidates who “consistently vote against clean energy and conservation and are running in races in which LCV has a serious chance to affect the outcome.”

Sestak last year set up an exploratory committee to prepare for a 2016 rematch against Toomey, although other Democrats could vie with Sestak for the nomination.

One of Toomey’s votes which earned him that low rating on the LCV scorecard was his vote last year against the $60 billion Sandy relief bill.

Toomey said during the Senate debate on that bill, “There is a real, genuine need, and that need needs to be met. That is part of the reason I voted in favor of spending $24 billion, which could legitimately prescribe the kind of emergency funding that suffering people needed.”

But he said superfluous items had been added to the bill – “all kinds of spending that has absolutely nothing to do with Superstorm Sandy, and none of it is offset.”

He also complained about “tens of billions of dollars” added to the Sandy bill “for the mitigation against future storms and disasters.”

Toomey said such infrastructure money shouldn’t have been inserted in an emergency bill. “It is going to be spent over years, maybe decades, as we build seawalls to protect beaches off the coast from future storms which are years away.”

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