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Congress pushes legislation only big oil could love

A glance at its record indicates this Congress is the most partisan in memory. Yet, somehow, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives wrote a transportation bill that is so bad and so out of touch that they couldn't even persuade their own party to support it.

Last week, Democrats and Republicans alike panned the so-called American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act as "the worst transportation bill in history." So many opposed the legislation that Speaker John Boehner was forced to split it into three pieces to give it a chance of passing.

Now, Boehner wants to pass three terrible bills instead of one, and exploit a rare procedure to merge them together without a final vote. But it's not just the process that is objectionable. The policy would set our nation's transportation infrastructure back decades and leave us hopelessly addicted to oil.

Instead of supporting essential transportation choices that reduce our reliance on oil and save American families money, this bill ends dedicated federal funding for public transportation. That means every dime of federal funding currently going to mass transit options like bus and rail services is endangered. Amtrak's funding is gutted and funding for high-speed rail ends. Programs funding bike lanes, trails and sidewalks are eliminated wholesale. And our bedrock environmental review laws are stripped from the books.

It gets worse. To pay for the bill, supporters want to turn our cherished public lands and coasts over to oil companies, opening up untouched land in the Arctic, along the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico to unchecked oil exploration. Yet that giveaway to big oil doesn't come close to meeting the bill's costs, producing less than 2 percent of the revenue needed.

We spend billions each year on transportation, and it's critical we get the policy guiding it right. Currently, about 25 percent of our bridges are structurally deficient or obsolete, 50 percent of our roads are in less than good condition, and barely half of Americans have access to public transit. It is vital that Congress pass a bill that repairs our infrastructure and invests in new transportation options that will enable safe and efficient travel while moving our transportation system off of oil.

But this bill does not do that. Republican leadership is again hijacking a must-pass bill to deliver an oil industry wish list.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, has done the right thing by opposing the first piece of this terrible bill, but some others in the New York delegation haven't been as bold in standing up to big oil.

The good news is the bill can still be stopped if either of the two remaining pieces is defeated. That means Congress has a choice: preserve our nation's beauty and protect the vital transportation options that millions rely on -- or vote to make the wildest dreams of the oil industry come true.

Ann Mesnikoff is Green Transportation campaign director for the Sierra Club.