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House panel advances $547 billion surface transportation bill

Jessica Wehrman and Joseph Morton, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

Tempers also flared over an amendment by Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., that would require the Secretary of Commerce to certify that no electric vehicle charging device paid for with federal dollars use minerals sourced or processed with child labor from overseas.

The House Democrats’ bill would invest $4 billion in electric vehicle charging infrastructure aimed at advancing electric vehicle use in the country. DeFazio called Stauber’s amendment a “cynical attempt to protect carbon-polluting industries like oil and gas,” and argued it was designed to hinder the development of the electric vehicle industry.

Stauber responded by saying he was “really offended” by DeFazio’s comments. “You cannot turn a blind eye to child labor,” he said.

But DeFazio was unmoved, accusing Stauber of using child labor as an excuse to source such minerals in Minnesota at the expense of the state’s environment.

“Don’t give us a bunch of BS that we’re soft on China, don’t give us a bunch of of BS that we’re soft on child labor when what you’re trying to do here is cripple the EV industry or perhaps promote cobalt production in your own state,” DeFazio said. “One or the other is not in the national interest.”

The lengthy back-and-forth culminated in DeFazio introducing an amendment to Stauber’s amendment that would strip most provisions of the amendment with the exception of a commission to study electric vehicle battery sourcing and production issues in the United States. DeFazio’s amendment to the Stauber amendment was adopted, 38-30.

GOP anger

Both debates took up long stretches of time during a hearing aimed at marking up what Democrats hope will be a key part of Biden’s $2 trillion-plus infrastructure plan. Republicans from the start made it clear that they felt left out of the process and were disinclined to offer support.


“The reality is you all have your mind made up, and you’re probably going to push this partisan bill through and push it out of the committee and vote it off the floor and send it off to the Senate, where hopefully something better will happen,” said Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark.

While a $312.4 billion bill approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously May 26, there was little hope that the House would repeat that moment of bipartisan cooperation with its bill.

The overall highway bill includes $343 billion for roads, bridges and safety; $109 billion for transit and $95 billion for freight and passenger rail.

It dedicates $8.3 billion for reducing carbon pollution, with an additional $6.2 billion for mitigation and resiliency improvements aimed at building infrastructure resistant to extreme weather events.

The bill also calls for investing $3 billion into a program aimed at tearing down or modifying bridges or overpasses that separated Black and Brown communities from their cities. That proposal would receive $20 billion over eight years in Biden’s plan and $500 million over five years in the Senate bill.

Regardless of Biden’s larger infrastructure plan, the highway bill is considered a must-pass; the current law, a one-year extension of the 2015 law expires at the end of September.

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