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The Planet



Congress seems determined to turn America's roads into highways to hell. Appropriations Committee members are cutting a dirty backroom deal to put high-level nuclear waste on highways across America. At the same time, Congress is making those roads less safe by eliminating the National Maximum Speed Limit that has saved lives and fuel. In addition, even more fuel will be wasted by a Transportation Appropriations "rider" prohibiting the Department of Transportation from raising gas mileage standards.

Rep. Tom DeLay's prohibition on higher fuel efficiency standards will help the short-term profits of the auto manufacturers and hurt consumers, the environment and the economy. The "Delay rider" will in fact delay the time when drivers can buy minivans, sport-utility vehicles and pickups that get more mileage out of a gallon of gas. Because light truck standards have lagged behind the standards for cars, the average fuel economy of all new vehicles sold has actually declined from 26.2 miles per gallon in 1987 to 24.8 mpg in 1995.

Meanwhile, the Energy and Water Appropriations conferees are trying to use the annual funding of the Department of Energy's radioactive waste program to make the biggest change in high- level nuclear waste policy since 1982. Sens. Domenici and Johnston and Reps. Myers and Bevill are sneaking into the conference report a provision that neither house has voted on. The conference committee leaders want the federal government to take out the nuclear utilities' toxic garbage and ship it by truck and rail to the state of Nevada, whose citizens and elected officials strongly oppose hosting a dump.

The two issues of speed limits and radioactive waste demonstrate the hypocrisy that pervades Congress. The rationale for lifting the National Maximum Speed Limit is supposedly that states should have the authority to regulate their own roads. Yet, Congress at the same time is perfectly willing to override Nevada's law against siting a high-level nuclear waste dump within its borders, and to force poisons onto that state's roads.

Conferees on the National Highway System bill still have a chance to save one protection for public health and safety by retaining the National Maximum Speed Limit for commercial trucks. Given that the Energy and Water conferees want to load up trucks with radioactive waste, keeping the speed limit for heavy trucks, as the Senate bill would, becomes even more important.
CONTACT: Bill Magavern 202-546-4996 Email:

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