Highway bill could be combined with college loan extension

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Updated Jun 28, 2012

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Congressional leaders on Wednesday, June 27, tentatively agreed on a two-year highway bill that possibly could be combined with an extension of low interest rates on college loans in order to enable both to be approved before a June 30 deadline. Lawmakers hope to use pension law changes to help pay for both measures.

House and Senate committee conferees agreed to maintain current federal transportation levels for 27 months, Bloomberg reported Thursday, June 28. Senate aides worked Wednesday to put the agreement into legislative language, the Associated Press reported. The conferees are expected to pass the measure before the end of the week, prior to the expiration of the current extension of transportation funding on Saturday, the House Transportation Committee said in a statement.

The Associated Press reported Thursday, June 28, that a provision that requires commercial trucks to be equipped with electronic onboard recorders was retained in the bill despite a lobbying effort by owner-operators to have it removed. The provision was supported by large fleets, safety advocates and labor unions.

The bill would increase the minimum bond required of transportation brokers to operate legally, raising the surety bond minimum to $75,000 from $10,000, where it had been since the deregulation era. Freight forwarders likewise would be subject to the surety requirements.

The proposed legislation drops a requirement that the government approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline that would transport oil from Canada’s tar sands to Port Arthur, Texas. The White House threatened to veto the bill if it included Keystone, which had been pushed by House Republicans.

Also eliminated from the bill was another provision sought by House Republicans that would have blocked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the toxic ash generated by coal-fired power plants. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a negotiator on the bill, told reporters that both the Keystone and coal ash provisions had been dropped.

The current three-month highway bill extension, set to expire Saturday, June 30, is the ninth since the September 2009 expiration of SAFETEA-LU, the most recent long-term transportation funding law.