Baltimore Bridge Funding Snared in Battle over New Natural Gas Exports Ban

(Casey Harper, The Center Square) – After the tragic collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore last week, President Joe Biden called for Congress to pick up the tab, but that request has been snared by one of Biden’s more controversial policies.

The conservative House Freedom Caucus released a statement Friday responding to Biden’s funding request with their own demands that those funds must be used on the actual bridge, not political projects.

The caucus lawmakers also said they would not vote for the funding until Biden lifts his ban on new sites for liquefied natural gas exports, a highly controversial move by the Biden administration that has been under consistent fire since the ban was put in place in January of this year.

The Caucus’ stance came just before Biden visited Baltimore Friday afternoon to survey the damage and meet with officials and the family members of victims.

“Before Congress considers any emergency supplemental funding for the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, it’s important that (1) we first seek maximum liability from the foreign shipping companies upfront and (2) the Port of Baltimore draws upon already available federal funds,” the group said in a statement.

“If it proves necessary to appropriate taxpayer money to get one of America’s busiest ports back online, Congress should ensure it is fully offset and that burdensome regulations (such as NEPA, the Endangered Species Act, the Davis Bacon Act, project labor agreements, etc.) are waived to avoid all unnecessary delays and costs,” the group added.

Immediately after the Baltimore bridge incident, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration said $60 million in “quick release” emergency funds would be made available to the Maryland Department of Transportation.

Biden, though, has called for Congress to pick up the tab for rebuilding the bridge in its entirety.

“The President has also been clear since day one about his commitment that the Federal government should cover any needed costs for reconstructing the bridge,” the White House said in a statement. “While we continue to assess those costs alongside our Federal and state partners, the Biden-Harris Administration is asking Congress to join us in demonstrating our commitment to aid in recovery efforts by authorizing a 100 percent Federal cost share for rebuilding the bridge. This authorization would be consistent with past catastrophic bridge collapses, including in 2007, when Congress acted in a bipartisan manner within days of the I-35W bridge collapse in Minnesota.”

The conservative lawmakers warned that any additional federal funds passed out of Congress must not, as they often do, be siphoned off for other projects or political pet issues.

“Furthermore, this funding must be limited to physical structure repairs with a federal nexus – this must not become a pork-filled bill loaded with unrelated projects and the House of Representatives must adhere to the ‘single subject’ rule,” the group said.

Lawmakers also included a demand for Biden to revoke his ban on permits for liquefied natural gas.

“Finally, the Biden Administration’s pause on approvals of liquified natural gas export terminals – which, like the Baltimore harbor closure, has severe implications for foreign trade – must be lifted before Congress considers appropriating any funding for the bridge reconstruction.”

Federal spending has also been a major sticking point since Biden took office. Federal debt spending led to 40-year high inflation and ballooned the national debt to more than $34 trillion. Many Republicans have been just as eager to dole out those funds, but some Republicans have raised the alarm about the debt, saying it is unsustainable.

The LNG ban has received even more pushback recently. The natural gas industry supports millions of U.S. jobs and provides significant tax revenue into federal coffers.

The Biden administration has pushed back, saying the U.S. already does plenty of exporting and that climate change should be considered.

A coalition of roughly two dozen state attorneys general sent a letter to Biden in February blasting his decision to pause the export site approvals.

They argue the Department of Energy does not have the legal authority to place a wholesale ban on the export permits, as The Center Square previously reported.

“Your administration’s planned ‘pause’ – which we might more accurately call a series of constructive denials – of most American LNG exports is unlawful for several reasons,” the letter said. “Generally, agency legislative rules must go through the APA’s notice-and-comments procedures,” the letter said. “And the pause here is a substantive rule required to go through that process. The pause effectively commands the Department to stop performing its obligations under the NGA to approve export applications and does not leave the agency free to exercise discretion unless it chooses to disobey the policy. That’s the exact type of substantive rule that needs to go through notice and comment because it modifies substantial rights.”