HURST -- Allowing oil and gas companies to expand domestic drilling could generate the money needed to fix the nation's crumbling roads and bridges and build new infrastructure to cope with growth, members of Congress say.
The idea would be to lift a ban on offshore drilling, allow exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and promote additional shale drilling. Lease payments for these drilling rights would then be used to help pay for billions of dollars in new highway, transit and other mobility projects across the U.S. -- providing elected leaders with an alternative to raising motor fuels taxes.
"It makes a linkage between gas production and a method to pay for infrastructure improvements," U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, said after explaining the proposal to constituents during a transportation summit in Hurst.
U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., speaking to summit attendees at the Hurst Conference Center in a videotaped message, expressed optimism that the measure could have sufficient support to be passed in the House before the end of the year. Current highway funding expires in March.
Mica, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has been a vocal critic of Congress' habit of authorizing more highway and transit projects than tax revenues can cover, a practice that has depleted the highway trust fund.
However, the proposal -- dubbed the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act -- already has drawn criticism. Some Democrats have pointed out the danger of linking the fate of a long-term transportation bill with a controversial subject such as expanded drilling, which is opposed by some groups in Washington on environmental grounds. In the Senate, a different transportation bill would provide for two years worth of projects nationwide, primarily using existing funding sources.
Monday's meeting marked the ninth annual transportation summit held in Burgess' 26th congressional district. Each year, Burgess said his goal is mainly to ensure that local, state and federal officials understand each other's priorities and work together to pay for roads, rail and other infrastructure.