Washington Insight

Jeffords unveils priorities as new leader of Senate public works committee

Jim Fahey
Director of Government Relations
APWA Washington, D.C. Office

Senator James Jeffords' (I-VT) decision to change party affiliation in May and leave the Republican party to become an Independent sent shock waves of change through the Senate, propelling Democrats into leadership positions and Jeffords into an important leadership post for shaping federal policy on infrastructure and public works issues.

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Now the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), Jeffords replaces Senator Robert Smith (R-NH). In his new position, Jeffords will set the legislative priorities and determine the agenda for a committee which has responsibility for just about every aspect of public works. Its jurisdictional reach takes in environmental policy, environmental research and development; fisheries and wildlife; solid waste disposal and recycling; water resources; flood control and improvements of rivers and harbors; bridges and dams; construction and maintenance of highways; water pollution; air pollution; noise pollution; regional economic development; and public buildings.

As chairman, Jeffords has narrowed that broad list of committee responsibilities down to several core areas that will constitute his priorities over the next year and a half. They are water infrastructure, transportation, air quality, and brownfields.

Jeffords' priorities
Concerned about the condition of the nation's deteriorating drinking water and wastewater systems, Jeffords intends to focus on ways to improve these systems and plans to write and consider legislation to rebuild the nation's water infrastructure. Current estimates place the unmet capital investment need to improve wastewater and drinking water infrastructure at $23 billion annually. Closing this funding gap is an APWA priority, and together with the Water Infrastructure Network, the broad-based coalition formed to advocate on behalf of water needs, APWA will be working with Jeffords and his staff to address these needs.

With regard to transportation, Jeffords asserted that he will "marry" environmental goals with transportation needs. He plans to hold an aggressive hearing schedule in preparation for the reauthorization of the $218 billion federal surface transportation law, TEA-21, which expires in 2003. Renewal of TEA-21 is also an APWA priority. APWA's TEA-21 Task Force is developing advocacy positions for reauthorization, and as the reauthorization process in Washington unfolds, APWA will also be working with Jeffords and his staff on this issue important to public works officials.

Jeffords' air quality initiatives include plans to move a bill called the Clean Power Act out of EPW by the end of the year. The measure, also known as the four-pollutant bill, would require reductions in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, and carbon dioxide. In addition, Jeffords is interested in addressing climate-change issues and would like to see greenhouse gas emissions cut at least to their 1990 levels.

Before Jeffords became EPW chairman, the committee and the Senate had completed work on legislation that provides financial incentives and reduces liability for those who restore brownfield sites. He has expressed his commitment to working with the House of Representatives to complete work on brownfields legislation and seeing it signed into law during the summer.

A native of Vermont
Jeffords was first elected to the Senate in 1988 and is now serving in his third term. His political career includes service from 1967 to 1968 as a Vermont State Senator for Rutland County, Vermont. He held his first statewide office as Vermont Attorney General from 1969 to 1973, and from 1975 to 1988 he served in the House of Representatives as Vermont's Congressman At-Large. Jeffords is a native of Vermont. He is a graduate of Yale University and received a law degree from Harvard Law School.