Questionable EPA Program Feeds the Hands That Bite it

Published October 1, 1999

Representative David McIntosh (R-Indiana) and Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) are probing the Environmental Protection Agency’s grantmaking in its Transportation Partners Program (TPP)–a program whose very existence appears to be unauthorized.

Over six years, EPA doled out nearly $7.5 million to the program’s anti-roads “partners.” The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) received the largest share, some $1.5 million.

EDF spends the money on far more than lobbying. According to Bonner Cohen, senior fellow at The Lexington Institute and editor of EPA Watch, “EDF, as well as several other EPA-funded organizations, has on several occasions petitioned EPA and even gone so far as to sue the agency to take publicly unpopular actions. This gives EPA protection from political fallout from such actions because they can simply say they were forced to do it.”

In fact, EPA and other government agencies have been and are being sued by a variety of EPA-funded anti-road groups funded by TPP. These cases came to the public’s attention only recently, after McIntosh asked EPA on August 10, “Do any project partners engage in advocacy and/or litigation to oppose new highway capacity? If so, please identify which ones and the support each has received under the TPP or other EPA programs.”

While EPA was not forthcoming on total agency funding for the groups and did not comment on their advocacy activities, the agency did acknowledge that eight suits had been brought by its “partners” to restrict road construction.

“Partners” Sue to Block Road Construction

  • Environmental Defense Fund, Inc. v. Environmental Protection Agency, 1999. EDF sued EPA to challenge the agency’s national conformity rules, under which federal highway construction funds can be withheld. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which is on the Surface Transportation Partners Board, and the Sierra Club, which serves on its Steering Committee, joined EDF in the suit. Both are themselves recipients of EPA funds.
  • Environmental Defense Fund, Inc. v. Environmental Protection Agency, 1999. EDF sued to require more extensive conformity analysis than EPA required, holding up $1.9 billion in federal road construction funds.
  • Idaho Clean Air Force et. al. v. Environmental Protection Agency, 1999. EDF joined this suit to oppose an EPA action that found Idaho’s northern Ada County and Boise no longer out of attainment for particulate matter, tying up $21 million in highway expansion and improvement projects.
  • Sierra Club v. Carol Browner, 1999. Seeks to declare the St. Louis area out of conformity with the Clean Air Act, thus holding up at least one Missouri road construction project.
  • Corridor H Alternatives v. Slater, 1999. This suit, brought by a local “Project Partner,” halted road construction. The group was joined in the suit by Friends of the Earth; Scenic America, a member of the STPP steering committee; and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which is represented on the STPP board.
  • Georgians for Transportation Alternatives and Sierra Club v. Shakelford, 1999. EPA says this suit may affect numerous highway projects in the Atlanta area.
  • Sierra Club v. Environmental Protection Agency, 1997. Essentially, another case to put more red tape in the way of road building. This one requires that metropolitan transportation projects be part of regional transportation plans or funding may be withheld.
  • Conservation Law Foundation v. Federal Highway Administration, 1994. Aimed at stopping the Jamestown Connector highway project. The Conservation Law Foundation of New Jersey is a local “Project Partner.”

Program Not Authorized by Law

EPA’s Transportation Partners Program, which has as its stated purpose the reduction of vehicle miles traveled in the U.S., has also funded such diverse groups as the Bicycle Federation of America and the Transportation Demand Management Institute, which have a common goal of opposing highway construction or expansion. EPA has told McIntosh that it “evaluated the success of the program by measuring carbon emissions reductions resulting from reduced vehicle miles traveled as the primary outcome performance measure.”

“This is puzzling,” McIntosh responded. “Section 103 of the Clean Air Act, cited by EPA as the statutory authority for the TPP, contains only one mention of carbon dioxide. Section 103 (g)(1) requires the Administrator to make ‘improvements in non-regulatory strategies and technologies for preventing or reducing multiple air pollutants including . . . carbon dioxide, from stationary sources, including fossil fuel power plants.’ Automobiles are mobile, not stationary. . . .”

In apparent confusion, EPA responded to Byrd on July 13 that TPP “has been discontinued,” only to write to him just three days later claiming the agency is “making a number of important changes that will substantially improve the program’s accountability . . .”

As McIntosh has noted in a letter to EPA Administrator Carol Browner, the TPP Web site is still up and running and carries no notification of the program’s termination. He has asked for copies of all correspondence with the program’s partners regarding termination.