Enviros warming up for next transportation spending fight

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The White House has said Obama will sign the transportation bill late Friday afternoon after the conclusion of a bus trip through campaign swing states. The White House has said the bill-signing ceremony will be attended by construction workers and students in a nod to a provision of the bill that extends a low interest rate on college loans for one year.

The administration hopes the bill will offer a counter argument to weaker-than-expected employment numbers that were released on Friday. The numbers showed the U.S. economy added only 80,000 jobs in the month of June. The transportation bill has often been touted by supporters as a jobs measure.

Despite the NRDC's unhappiness with the final transportation bill (H.R. 4348), the president's signature on the legislation is expected to culminate a fight over road and transit spending that stretched almost three years. The last transportation bill approved by Congress before last week's votes was scheduled to expire in 2009, but the measure was temporarily extended 10 times, including a final week-long measure to give Obama time to sign the new version of the bill.

Supporters of the transportation bill have defended its environmental provisions. To win support from House Republicans for the measure, Democrats in the Senate agreed to "streamline" environmental reviews of transportation projects in exchange for Republicans removing a mandate requiring construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The chairwoman of the committee that conferenced on the transportation bill, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), said Friday in a letter to The New York Times that the bill "expedites project delivery.

"Projects with less than $5 million in federal money are categorically excluded from reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, but they must still comply with other environmental laws and federal permitting requirements," she wrote. 

After it is signed into law by the president on Friday, the transportation bill will provide funding for road and transit projects through the end of fiscal 2014. 

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