WASHINGTON-The fate of federal mandates for the use of recycled tire rubber in federal highway projects might be decided by a pending House-Senate conference. Advocates of rubberized asphalt are pinning their hopes on a compromise they feel represents their best chance of getting Congressional approval. But the compromise reduces the amount of asphalt rubber the government would require the states to use in order to receive federal highway funds.
Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act in 1991. Section 1038 of ISTEA requires the states to use ever increasing percentages of asphalt rubber in federally funded highway projects-beginning with 5 percent in 1994 and increasing to 20 percent by 1997.
But the Transportation Department appropriations for fiscal year 1994 contained a provision forbidding the Federal Highway Administration from using any funds to promote or enforce Section 1038. Rep. Bob Carr, D-Mich., sponsor of the anti-1038 amendment, agreed with the assertions of state highway officials and conventional rubber makers that rubberized asphalt is an unproven technology.
The Clinton administration's DOT appropriations bill for fiscal year 1995 renewed the Carr amendment. Although the House DOT bill passed earlier this year contained that provision, the Senate bill passed on July 21 did not.
``Very little happened on the surface,'' said Sean Reed of the Rubber Pavements Association. ``The Senate simply decided not to include the moratorium language.''
The House-Senate conference on the bill will determine whether the moratorium on rubberized asphalt becomes law for one more year.
``Apparently they are setting the stage for some sort of compromise,'' Mr. Reed said. The RPA hopes the conference will consider the compromise measure put forward last spring in the House-passed National Highway System Designation Act.
This compromise begins the state asphalt rubber requirements next year, at 5 percent, climbing to 10 percent in 1996 and 15 percent in 1997.
In 1995, the states may use all recycled asphalt or other materials in lieu of crumb rubber to meet the 5-percent recycling requirement. Alternatives to asphalt rubber may comprise half the 10-percent requirement in 1996, and one-third the 15-percent requirement in 1997.
Also, the states may meet up to one-half the remaining rubber requirement in those years in alternate applications, such as embankments and noise barriers.
They may do this, however, only if they can certify the alternatives do not threaten public safety, human health or the environment, and provide engineering benefits at least equal to the products they replace.
DOT, meanwhile, must ``embark on aggressive technology transfer and training programs to ensure that states that are having problems meeting the minimum use requirements...receive assistance from the federal government,'' according to a fact sheet.
In essence, the compromise reduces the states' asphalt rubber requirements to zero in 1995, 2.5 percent in 1996 and 5 percent in 1997, according to Mr. Reed.
``Some environmental groups think the compromise gives away too much,'' he said. ``But it's a compromise we're willing to live with. Left and right of the compromise, you just have a bunch of headaches.''
Transportation officials from 48 states and the District of Columbia have urged Mr. Carr to stand fast on the moratorium.
The compromise, which they said ``would amend Section 1038 in a number of positive ways,'' may not pass the Senate. This would mean the states would have to obey Section 1038 as written unless the moratorium continues, they said.
Mr. Reed was more sanguine about the compromise's chances. The RPA still hopes the Senate Public Works and Environment Committee can make headway on the National Highway System, he said, but thinks DOT appropriations are a good vehicle for the compromise in the NHS bill's absence.
The House and Senate have yet to schedule the conference on DOT appropriations. The unofficial date is Sept. 20, Mr. Reed said.