By Nick Goldstein, vice president of regulatory & legal issues, ARTBA

Recent disputes between California and the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highlight the urgent need for an overhaul of the federal Clean Air Act’s (CAA) transportation conformity process. In a Sept. 24 letter to the state, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler raised the possibility of withholding the state’s federal highway funding over missed conformity deadlines.

In a Sept. 26 response letter to the EPA, ARTBA wrote that “transportation conformity has become a top-heavy bureaucratic exercise that puts more emphasis on administrative details than on real-world outcomes. The fact that needed highway funds hang in the balance of this dubious process should be a concern for all states.”

In a related development, the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Sept. 27 also finalized the first portion of the “Safer, Affordable, Fuel-Efficient” (SAFE) vehicles rule, which revokes a waiver for California allowing the state to set its own fuel standards. This will cause the state to fall out of compliance with transportation conformity.

ARTBA has been meeting with congressional leadership and EPA personnel to advocate for giving California flexibility in meeting its transportation conformity requirements because of the SAFE rule’s impacts to the state. ARTBA has advocated for changes to transportation conformity for more than 20 years. The association will continue to pursue holistic reform of this process rather than a piecemeal approach that penalizes individual states by withholding highway funds that could support air quality improving congestion relief projects.