Transportation News for February 18, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on February 18, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 2/18/2015 

By Heather Caygle, With help from Kathryn A. Wolfe and Kevin Robillard

BIDEN, FOXX TAG TEAM THE PALMETTO STATE: Vice President Joe Biden will join Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx today to talk infrastructure in South Carolina, a stop on Foxx’s East Coast bus tour to support infrastructure spending. In the morning, Biden and Foxx will appear at the Port of Charleston and in the afternoon will visit manufacturing company Owen Steel in Columbia, S.C. And tomorrow, the duo will be in Foxx’s hometown of Charlotte, N.C., for Biden’s final transpo bus tour event.

The multistate tour, which will bring Foxx back to D.C. later this week, is another way for the administration to promote its proposed six-year, $478 billion transportation bill, which includes big investments in highways, transit and rail. The bill, funded by a mandatory 14 percent tax on corporate profits stashed overseas, is a transportation lover’s dream but unlikely to gain any traction on the Hill as lawmakers seem to be at a loss for how to plug the current funding hole in the Highway Trust Fund, much less boost investment.

OPEN SKIES IN SPOTLIGHT: Several travel groups will be at the National Press Club today for a lunchtime panel to rally against a recent push by U.S. airlines to change Open Skies policies. The move comes just a couple weeks after leaders of top U.S. carriers met with Cabinet officials including Foxx and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to voice concerns over Open Skies agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, a lobbying effort that caused a near revolt among travel groups. Representatives from the Business Travel Coalition, FedEx and the U.S. Travel Association among others, will be on hand for today’s event.

Business Travel Coalition Chairman Kevin Mitchell couldn’t wait until today to express his displeasure with the U.S. airlines’ actions, criticizing Delta’s CEO on Tuesday for comments made on CNN about Gulf carriers and the rebuilding U.S. airlines went through after the Sept.11 tragedy. But not to be outdone, an opposition coalition has formed, led by former ALPA President Lee Moak. The Americans for Fair Skies group launched a campaign Tuesday and sent a letter to Mitchell.

“The actions by the United Arab Emirates and Qatar directly violate the understandings established under Open Skies, are unprecedented in the international aviation marketplace and are protectionism at its worst. In carrying out their dramatic and subsidized expansion, the UAE and Qatar have turned Open Skies on its head and violated both its letter and spirit,” Moak wrote. Read the letter:

New York Times editorial: The Gray Lady’s editorial board on Tuesday warned the administration against taking any drastic action against current Open Skies agreements: “Administration officials should study these allegations but must tread carefully before trying to tear up treaties that have served travelers well. While open skies agreements generally include clauses that call for ‘fair competition,’ the United States has never tried to rescind or renegotiate such treaties because a country was subsidizing its airlines, government officials say.” Read more:

DERAILMENT FIRE STILL BLAZING TUESDAY: A fire was still blazing yesterday at the site of a West Virginia crude oil train derailment that happened Monday, according to a Tuesday evening FRA update. “At this time, there is still fire at the site and emergency responders continue to work to stabilize and secure the area so that federal investigators can have access to the site,” FRA spokesman Kevin Thompson said. There are several agency personnel on site, including FRA’s acting administrator and chief safety officer, an agency tank car specialist and PHMSA’s acting chief. The team will be briefed, view the derailment from a distance and could then go on-site as early as this morning, Thompson said.

What does this mean for rail safety? Kathryn has more: “The spectacular explosion of an oil train in West Virginia has underscored frustration over delays in implementing more forceful safety regulations for crude-carrying trains, many of which rumble through communities’ downtowns. … Some 28 tank cars were involved in Monday’s derailment, and 20 caught fire, though how many breached is still unclear. However, all of the cars in the load were built to a newer, stronger design, raising fresh questions about whether even the improved cars the industry has begun to use are adequate for the task.”

“DOT’s pending rule calls for a combination of more stringent operational controls on crude trains, such as speed limits and improved brakes, along with stronger tank car design standards – but competing industries want solutions that diverge sharply in some spots, making it a difficult needle to thread. Some lawmakers are renewing calls for the Transportation Department to do more, faster.” Full story:

HANDS UP FOR WEDNESDAY. Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

I’m your host, Heather, who thinks the Beagle that won Best in Show last night is cute and all, but that pup better count her lucky stars that Biggie Smalls didn’t enter the competition (

It’s freezing here in D.C. but I know just the remedy – a good scoop! So send one my way at or send a tweet: @heatherscope. Please don’t forget to follow @Morning_Transpo and @POLITICOPro.

“Well I was thinkin’ about parking the other night. We was out on the back road…”

**Say yes to more U.S. jobs, increased tourism, economic growth, lower airfares and more transatlantic competition. With nearly 300 American flight attendants already working in the U.S., and with a new Boeing fleet, approval of Norwegian Air International will allow Norwegian to continue creating jobs and generating economic growth.**

OBAMA DIPS INTO PORT POLITICS: Brian Mahoney has the latest on the West Coast ports standoff: “President Barack Obama may have to intervene directly in the West Coast ports dispute, becoming the first Democratic president since Jimmy Carter to impose a resolution on a private labor-management conflict. The slowdown in shipping comes at an especially awkward time for Obama, who is trying to push through a global trade deal largely opposed by organized labor. On Sunday, Obama sent Labor Secretary Tom Perez to San Francisco to press both sides toward agreement. A federal mediator previously sent to the West Coast had failed to resolve the matter. Labor and management both know that should Perez also fail and the stalemate continue, the next logical step would be for the president to declare a national emergency under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act and force a solution. The last president to take such action was George W. Bush in 2002.”

Awkward: “The Obama administration has been on a pro-labor streak lately. … But the president’s advocacy for TPP is an irritant to labor unions who were just getting over being placed largely on hold during Obama’s first term. … Ending labor-management-labor conflicts by executive fiat typically favors management’s interest over labor’s, something no Democratic president is ever eager to do.” Pros get the story:

FEINSTEIN WEIGHS IN ON DRONE RULE: Sen. Dianne Feinstein is cheering the FAA’s new rules for commercial drones but says more needs to be done, including regulating recreational use. “While the FAA’s proposed rule for the commercial operation of small drones is a welcome step and includes important safety protections, it also highlights a glaring gap in FAA’s authority,” the Californian said in a statement. “Similar or identical devices may be exempt from common-sense regulations when they are used for recreational purposes – even though the devices are most likely flown by individuals with no certification or training.’ Feinstein has already said she plans on introducing legislation restricting drone use.

TAXI GROUP HITS UBER ON ‘PANIC BUTTON’: Uber told the Chicago Sun-Times last week it would install a ‘panic button’ feature on its app for customers in Chicago sometime in the next several months and could roll it out nationwide later. The feature arrives after a number of Uber drivers in Boston and Chicago have been accused of sexually assaulting customers in recent months. The Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association was unimpressed. ‘Uber’s panic button puts the responsibility of avoiding sexual assault on its passengers,’ spokesman Dave Sutton said. ‘Like the ‘safe ride checklist’ and ‘share my ETA’ features, Uber offers DIY tech tools instead of working with law enforcement to prevent such assaults in the first place.’

JUDGE TALKS RECALL IN GM BANKRUPTCY CASE: Reuters reports: “A judge said on Tuesday that if General Motors Co. is found to have violated car owners’ constitutional rights by hiding ignition-switch defects during its bankruptcy, he would consider narrowing the legal protections afforded the company under its 2009 bankruptcy sale. … GM’s 2009 bankruptcy resulted in a sale of the company’s profitable assets to the entity that now operates as General Motors Co. Its burdensome liabilities were shed and assigned to the ‘Old GM’ trust, a shell with limited assets. GM says the plaintiffs must seek compensation from the trust because their claims pertain to cars made before bankruptcy.” Full story:

EPW COUNSEL MOVES TO CONSULTING: Elana Schor reports: “Kristina Moore, a former top aide at both the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, this week joined FTI Consulting. Moore most recently served as Sen. David Vitter’s senior counsel during his time as the EPW panel’s top Republican, spearheading the Louisiana Republican’s EPA inquiries. She also played a central role in House oversight investigations into the BP oil spill and recalls of Toyota automobiles.”


-Automakers likely months away from identifying defect behind Takata airbags. The Wall Street Journal:

Tesla’s strange bedfellows include Koch Brothers, Sierra Club. Automotive News:

-Is Silicon Valley challenging Detroit as the U.S. auto hub? The Detroit News:

-Op-Ed: “Gas tax is all for transportation.” The Wall Street Journal:

-The next big thing for Big Apple commuters? It could be the ferry if NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has his way. Bloomberg:

-“Air Force Un,” the private plane of the North Korean dictator. USA Today:

-Wondering which U.S. airport offers the best customer service? CNN:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 102 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 224 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 629 days.

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