Bilirakis Briefs Senior EPA Officials on Important Public Safety and Environmental Issues
Congressman Bilirakis proudly hosted U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento and EPA General Counsel Matthew Leopold in Pasco County to highlight two important public safety projects with EPA connections. On their first stop, Bilirakis and Benevento visited the site of the Ridge Road extension project to listen to Pasco County Administrator Dan Biles explain how this public safety project will help almost 200,000 Pasco and North Pinellas residents safely evacuate during an emergency. After more than twenty years of delay, due in part to EPA objections from previous Administrations, President Trump signed Executive Order 13766 which allowed public safety projects to receive expedited prioritization. Once that order was signed, the county made modifications to its application to address environmental impacts, and a permit for construction was issued. In addition to improving evacuation times, the critical road project will also help alleviate traffic congestion for a part of the community which has experienced significant population growth. “During our site visit, I thanked Administrator Benevento for the EPA’s new goals of fast tracking public safety projects, something that previous Administrations failed to do. Benevento assured me that the unacceptable delays in permitting the project are a thing of the past, and noted the importance of cutting through regulatory red tape when public safety issues are involved. We can design projects that protect the environment and our citizens, but we must learn from the example of Ridge Road and reduce the time it takes to do so,” said Congressman Bilirakis.
After visiting Ridge Road, the group traveled to Odessa, Florida which is home to Florida’s first Natural Gas School Bus Station. Pasco County, the 11th largest school district in the state of Florida with over 80,000 students, recently purchased a fleet of natural gas school buses. Though they cost more per bus, the lower emissions are better for the environment. This domestic source of fuel is also more stable in pricing, and engine noise is significantly reduced, which improves safety as the driver is better able to hear what is happening with children on the bus. While the current fleet only includes 50 buses, the school district is hoping to purchase many more. However, the grant program which originally helped the school district acquire these natural gas buses has expired. Congressman Bilirakis encouraged the EPA to consider future similar grant programs, which would enable forward thinking school districts, like Pasco, to expand this type of environmentally-friendly public safety initiative.
In addition to these Pasco priority projects, the Congressman followed up with EPA officials about his support for proposed funding for the estuary program, concerns with the impact that PFAS regulations could have on public utilities and allowing RESTORE Act funding to be used for the replacement of private sewer laterals, all of which are priority environmental issues recently raised by Pinellas County officials. “I am thrilled that Administration officials took the time to visit our beautiful and environmentally-sensitive community,” said Congressman Bilirakis. “It was a great opportunity to showcase our recent success and discuss ways to build upon those achievements in a manner that prioritizes public safety and growth of our community while protecting our pristine environment.”