March 14, 2012

Senate Passes Transportation Bill Including Whitehouse Oceans Measure, Regional Projects Program

Legislation Will Support Over 8,000 Jobs in Rhode Island

Washington, DC – The U.S. Senate today passed a comprehensive transportation and infrastructure bill, which is expected to deliver more than $500 million in federal transportation funding to Rhode Island, supporting over 8,000 jobs.  The bill also includes a measure by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) establishing a new National Endowment for the Oceans, Coasts, and Great Lakes to fund projects to protect our oceans and coasts and support jobs in industries like fishing and tourism. 

“This legislation is a win-win for our Ocean State,” said Whitehouse.  “Not only are we investing in vital transportation projects that will help put people to work, but we’re establishing a new program to protect and restore the vitality of marine and coastal ecosystems.  The National Endowment for the Oceans will support our coastal resources for decades to come, and I urge the House of Representatives to move swiftly to pass this bill so President Obama can sign it into law.”

Importantly for Rhode Island, the bill also creates the Projects of Regional and National Significance grant program, which Whitehouse helped include through his work on the bill in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.  This program would provide a mechanism, when funded, to rebuild the crumbling Providence Viaduct.  Replacing the Providence Viaduct is the largest public works project in Rhode Island and represents a significant financial burden on the state’s budget. 

An amendment to the transportation bill known as the RESTORE Act will set up a Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund financed by the billions of dollars in Clean Water Act penalties expected to be paid by BP and other companies responsible for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.  Fifty percent of the interest generated by that fund—expected to reach tens of millions of dollars in the first year alone—will provide funding for the National Endowment for the Oceans.  The grant programs run by the Endowment would fund projects across the country to restore habitats, manage fisheries, plan for sustainable coastal development, acquire coastal properties for preservation, and relocate critical coastal infrastructure.

“We applaud and appreciate Senator Whitehouse’s leadership on this issue,” said Raymond Marshall, Executive Director of the Narragansett Bay Commission.  “We know that a healthy environment creates a robust economic engine, and the Senator’s National Endowment for the Oceans will help to protect the critical clean water infrastructure that makes our coastal communities attractive to residents, tourists, and employers.”

“The Nature Conservancy applauds Senator Whitehouse for his great leadership in passing the RESTORE Act and creating the National Endowment for the Oceans.  Rhode Island knows all too well the major economic and environmental harm that can come from oil spills.  By investing in habitat restoration and sound management, we will make these priceless places even more valuable and resilient to whatever the future may bring,” said John Torgan, Director of Ocean and Coastal Conservation at The Nature Conservancy.

“Senator Whitehouse has shown extraordinary vision and leadership in the Senate’s approval of the National Endowment for the Oceans, Coasts and Great Lakes,” said Jonathan Stone of Save The Bay.  “This landmark initiative will ensure that America’s most sensitive and valuable waterways are protected and, where possible, restored to health.  It further recognizes the close connection between estuaries and inland waters, and the health of ocean fisheries.  We applaud the Senate for this extraordinary example of bipartisan stewardship of our nation’s natural resources.”

The oceans generate 50 percent of the Earth’s oxygen and are home to an estimated 1 million species.  Oceans also add over $130 billion to our nation’s Gross Domestic Product and are responsible for 2.3 million American jobs.

The transportation bill, passed by a vote of 74-22, reauthorizes expiring federal surface transportation policy for two years, including highway and bridge construction projects and programs to reduce traffic congestion, improve connections to transit systems, and improve the movement of goods.  According to a report by Transportation 4 America, nearly 68 percent of Rhode Island roads are rated in poor or mediocre condition, and 1 in 5 bridges in the state are structurally deficient – the fourth highest of any state.

The legislation moves to the House of Representatives.  Congressional action is needed before transportation programs expire on March 31, 2012.


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921