August 1, 2015

Congress fails to pass long-term highway bill, extends current funding (AUDIO)

Highway_constructionCongress has extended transportation funding just ahead of the deadline, but falls short in an effort to pass a long-term highway bill.

House leaders rejected the six-year $350 billion bill approved by the Senate. Instead, Congress passed a three-month highway bill, providing more time to negotiate.

Congressman Adrian Smith acknowledges it’s not the best outcome.

“Speaking for myself, but I think reflecting on the opinions of colleagues that we don’t want to just keep up with these short-term fixes,” Smith says. “We need to look longer-term.”

A couple of sticking points have arisen.

One is the funding of the bill. House leaders contend the numbers in the Senate bill simply don’t add up, leaving it short of the money needed to fund it for the full six years.

Another is the revival of the Export-Import Bank, which provides low-interest loans used by United States companies to export goods and services. The bank’s charter expired at the end of June.

Sen. Deb Fischer voted in the majority that approved the bill 65-34.

The Senate bill provides money for road and bridge construction throughout the country as well as money for transit, railroad, and auto safety programs.

Fischer says she’s satisfied with the funding contained in the bill, especially since it relies on tightening tax collections rather than raising taxes. The bill calls for $16 billion to be generated by reducing the dividend rate the federal government pays to banks.

Fischer voted against the provision including the Export-Import Bank in the bill.

Despite the setback in not passing a long-term measure, Fischer is optimistic an agreement can be struck with the House in September.

“I’m very, very hopeful we’re going to have a long-term highway bill that states want and people are demanding,” Fischer says.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

Road and bridge construction hangs in balance in Washington (AUDIO)

Highway_constructionHopes of approving a long-term transportation bill could run into political reality this week.

United States Sen. Deb Fischer expresses optimism a six-year transportation bill can be approved.

“I’ve long advocated for moving away from short-term patches and instead we need to focus on longer term solutions,” Fischer tells news reporters.

Senate leadership has reached a deal on a six-year transportation bill.

Fischer has long been an advocate for one aspect of the bill. It would ease federal regulations on projects which pose little if any environmental concerns, allowing the states to make assessments and regulate those projects.

“Then we’re going to see a savings in time, which means a savings in taxpayer dollars,” according to Fischer. “We have watched those be lost while we wait right now for the federal government to provide those assessments.”

While the Senate might have worked out a compromise on a transportation bill, it hasn’t received a warm welcome in the House. Quite the opposite. House leaders say they want a five-month extension to have more discussions about the Senate bill.

The hang up might have nothing to do with transportation. Reports in Washington indicate House leadership isn’t happy the Senate included a revival of the Import-Export Bank in the bill. The Import-Export Bank provides loans to help foreign customers buy United States goods. Its authorization lapsed earlier.

Congress is set to leave Washington soon for its annual August vacation.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:55]


Keystone pipeline marks one-billionth barrel of oil moved

Pipeline2While controversy and court battles continue over the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, the “other” original Keystone pipeline marked a milestone last week.

That pipeline has moved one-billion barrels of oil since it went into operation in 2010.

Cory Goulet, president of Keystone Projects for TransCanada, says 14 spills have been documented from the pipeline during that time.

“Most of them were a couple of gallons in size,” Goulet says, “and they were all associated with either pumps or valves or other equipment that just needs regular maintenance.” He says since the maintenance schedule has been stepped up, there have been no spills in the past several years.

Goulet says the bulk of the 14 leaks happened soon after the line began moving oil.

“None of those spills were the base pipeline itself,” he says. “The largest one was 400 barrels in size and except for five barrels that was sprayed onto a farmer’s field, 395 barrels were contained within the dike system on the pump station.”

The Keystone pipeline crosses North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. The line now moves more than 400,000 barrels of oil every day.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline still needs President Obama’s approval before it can be built across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, connecting to the existing Keystone pipeline.

TransCanada says 90% of Nebraska landowners along the proposed route have agreed to sign easements.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


Prediction: Gas prices may drop to $2/gallon under Iran nuke deal

gas-pump-111Nebraskans may see significantly lower gasoline prices in the coming months if Congress approves the pending nuclear agreement with Iran.

Fuels analyst Harold Hommes says Iran is stockpiling at least 30-million gallons of crude oil.

“Iran is ready to begin exporting,” Hommes says. “They’ve got, from my understanding, loaded vessels in place. They are actually using vessels as storage containers.”

If the multi-national agreement is approved, sanctions on Iran will be dropped and Hommes says that oil could be shipped to the U.S.

“That is going to hit the market, certainly putting downward pressure on crude prices again and that, in turn, will put downward pressure on refined products,” he says. Some analysts predict the impact could push gas below $2 a gallon, but Hommes is hesitant.

“I don’t know if we are going to go back to $2 gas, but it could certainly happen,” according to Hommes. “If it does, it’s going to be well into the fall, past our peak driving season.”

He expects a gradual impact as gas production isn’t going to expand.

“The refiners can only handle so much. They can boost capacity on a marginal level, but it’s primarily going to put a softening initially on the crude side of things,” Hommes explains. “Then eventually in a more measure manner, we’ll start that downward cycle on the refined products.”

The slow integration will likely keep gas prices from making a big drop all at once.


School bus riders will need to swipe card to board in Kearney

School BusThe Kearney Public School District is preparing to roll out new technology next year with the goal of helping younger students get on the right school bus and get off at the right stop.

Becky Reier, the district’s transportation director, says a mobility safety program using a swipe card system is being put in place for students who ride the bus.

“It will let the student know they’re on right bus,” Reier says. “If they try to get on the wrong bus, there’s a buzzer that goes off and that can be addressed by the driver and the student. If they’re trying to get off at the wrong stop, it will alert the driver and student. It’s a nice security system for the students, the driver and the district.”

Students carry a card which they’ll swipe through a device on the bus as they board. It provides the bus driver the student’s name, picture and other pertinent data — and can also send parents a text on their phones. It’s hoped the new system will streamline the process of getting kids to and from school.

“It’s relatively new for this area of the state,” Reier says. “They have had some programs of this type in larger school systems, but we have the same challenges in the smaller school system that they do in Omaha and Lincoln. It’s important that we have this onboard before there’s any kind of a problem.”

The technology was designed by a Texas bus driver who saw the need for more enhanced student safety measures. The Kearney schools hope to have the new system in place by mid-year or by next summer.

By Brent Wiethorn, KKPR, Kearney