EPA Challenged for Funding Anti-Highway Groups

Published September 1, 1998

While Congress and the President spent months negotiating, and finally passed, a $215 billion “highway bill,” the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appears to be traveling an entirely different road, directing its money to environmental and transit activist groups who oppose new highway construction.

The TEA-21 highway bill passed in June increased the federal government’s spending on highways and transit by 40 percent. The bill’s passage was enthusiastically received across the country–evidence, say the politicians, of widespread popular support for improving the nation’s highways. Ninety percent of trips to work in the U.S. are made by private vehicle, and over 75 percent of those trips are made by a solo driver.

Away from the limelight, though, EPA’s little-known “Transportation Partners” program works to sour the country’s love affair with the automobile.

The program pitches its mission in positive terms: to develop more transportation choices for Americans. And while the organizations funded through the program do indeed advocate increasing the availability of bicycle facilities, transit, and car and van-pooling, they also actively lobby against the building of new roads and even upgrades of existing roads.

Building extra roads is “an expensive, short-term fix” that just “encourages driving, adds pollution to the air, creates congestion and puts pressure on officials to build even bigger roads at taxpayer expense,” says Transportation Partners Central, the program’s headquarters office.

The Partners program was launched in 1995 as part of the Clinton Administration’s Climate Change Action Plan. It funds over 340 activist groups in 43 states and territories around the country. Its nine Principal Partners include some of the country’s most adamant anti-highway organizations: the Association for Commuter Transportation, Bicycle Federation of America, Center for Clean Air Policy, Environmental Defense Fund, International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, and Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP).

STPP (formed by 30 major environmental activist groups as their transportation lobby arm in 1991) campaigns relentlessly against roads. It raised eyebrows with claims in a recent newsletter that it succeeded in getting “new roads” spending cut in the TEA-21–not what most others reported. STPP’s website (www.transact.org), funded by the Transportation Partners program, is the leading vehicle for disseminating EPA material to the more than 340 activist group-partners.

Government agencies working at cross-purposes is hardly an unusual sight in Washington. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides price supports and extension programs to support tobacco, while the Food and Drug Administration and Surgeon General’s office spend tax dollars to oppose its use. It comes as little surprise–but is discouraging nevertheless–that the Federal Highway Administration should dispense billions to support the building and upgrade of the nation’s highways, while the EPA and its “partners” do their to stop them from getting built.

Peter Samuel, a journalist writing from Frederick, Maryland, specializes in highway and toll road issues. He publishes the monthly Toll Roads Newsletter. For more information about the newsletter, visit its Web site at http://www.tollroads.com.