Surface Transportation Reauthorization: Environmental Issues and Legislative Provisions in SAFETEA-LU (H.R. 3)

Publication Date: September 2005

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Transportation



On August 10, 2005, President Bush signed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU or SAFETEA). The act authorizes federal surface transportation programs (highway, highway safety, and transit programs) undertaken by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for FY2005-FY2009. The previous authorization for FY1998FY2003, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21, P.L. 105-178), expired on September 30, 2003. Since then, surface transportation programs operated in accordance with a series of extensions.

During the reauthorization process, certain environmental issues garnered significant attention from both Members of Congress and interested stakeholders (e.g., state transportation agencies, transportation construction organizations, and environmental groups). This attention was due to both the impact that surface transportation projects can have on the environment (and, possibly, the costs associated with addressing those impacts) and the impact that compliance with environmental requirements can have on project delivery.

SAFETEA includes a variety of environmental provisions. Generally, they authorize funding to eliminate, control, mitigate, or minimize environmental impacts associated with surface transportation programs or projects. Funding was authorized both for broad programs (e.g., the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program) and for specific types of projects (e.g., the purchase of clean fuel vehicles and programs to control noxious weeds). Funding levels for such activities generally increased in actual dollars compared to TEA-21.

The provisions also specify procedures that are intended to expedite compliance with certain environmental requirements. The most attention and debate related to changes in the procedures DOT must follow to comply with the Clean Air Act's conformity requirements; with environmental review requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); and with DOT requirements regarding the use of publicly owned parks, refuges, and historic sites (known as "Section 4(f)" requirements). In particular, a 180-day statute of limitations was established on judicial claims on certain final agency actions and Section 4(f) was amended to allow the use of parks, refuges, and historic sites if that use results in de minimis impacts.

Two provisions that generated significant stakeholder interest were not included in SAFETEA. The first was a provision in the Senate-passed version of H.R. 3 that would have required a 2% set-aside of each state's Surface Transportation Program funds for a "Highway Stormwater Discharge Mitigation Program." The second was an exemption for aviation refueling trucks from secondary containment requirements of certain provisions of the Clean Water Act.

This report provides background and detail on significant environmental provisions in SAFETEA. It will not be updated.