Transportation News for February 27, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on February 27, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 2/27/2015

By Heather Caygle, with help from Kevin Robillard, Kathryn A. Wolfe and Kate Tummarello

THINGS ARE STARTING TO FALL INTO PLACE: While MT may not have a crystal ball (or mind-reading abilities), we are learning a lot more about what to expect in terms of when and how Congress might tackle the year’s biggest transportation to-do items. The House could vote on a passenger rail reauthorization as soon as next week, lawmakers seem to be moving more toward a short-term patch for highways and the FAA reauthorization seems likely later this spring or early summer. Keep reading for the full rundown.

RAIL BILL ON TAP FOR NEXT WEEK: The House could vote as soon as next week on a bill to reauthorize Amtrak, House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster said during a Thursday speech at AASHTO. The Rules Committee will meet Monday evening to set the debate parameters for the bill, which was unanimously approved by the T&I Committee earlier this month?.Although the bill was easily moved out of committee, former T&I Chairman John Mica said he plans to make a run at Amtrak privatization once the bill hits the House floor. During the markup, Mica offered and then withdrew his privatization amendment (

Shuster dreams of Jimmy: Shuster, known by many for his comedic prowess, has a new joke in his arsenal – about Sen. Jim Inhofe. During his AASHTO speech, the Pennsylvanian recounted something he said during a trip to Oklahoma shortly before the midterm elections: “I said ‘Jim, I dream about you almost every night,'” Shuster said. “And he looked at me and I realized, ‘Well, that kinda sounds bad.’ I dream about you being chairman of the EPW committee in the Senate so that we can move forward a bill.”

SENATE DRONE HEARING NEXT MONTH: Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune said his committee plans to take up the “must-pass” FAA reauthorization no later than this summer, starting with a hearing on drones sometime in March. Speaking at a National Journal event Thursday morning, the South Dakota lawmaker said he wants to create “an innovation-friendly regulatory structure” at the agency. “Before I jump out to criticize certain restrictions proposed recently by the FAA, or get into privacy concerns, I want the FAA and other federal officials to have an opportunity to take questions and explain their reasoning in a public forum,” he said.

Over on the House side: T&I ranking member Peter DeFazio said his committee is still hoping to move the FAA reauthorization and the surface transportation bill on parallel tracks, but he admitted there are a lot of issues to be worked out in the aviation arena. “We haven’t sat down to have a final, more just positive discussion about the exact shape of the bill. [Shuster] wants to be transformative. … I’m on board with that but transformative means a lot of different things to a lot of different people and we’ve got to nail that down,” he said. So how do you whip that bill into shape? “We can stay up all night for a few days; it’s like finals,” DeFazio told MT.

The White House’s role: Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says the agency is still deciding whether to submit an FAA proposal to Congress. ‘I think it’s fair to say that we intend to be relevant to the discussion on FAA reauthorization,’ he said, responding to a question from Rep. David Price at a House Appropriations hearing on the agency’s budget request Thursday. ‘We’re having internal discussions about how we express that, whether it’s through a full-blown proposal, or bill language, or a set of principles.’

AND NOW FOR THAT HIGHWAY BILL: Shuster said he’s still committed to a May timeline for a multiyear transportation bill but “every day, week that goes by that we don’t have a funding solution, it makes it difficult.” But DeFazio told MT it’s time to start seriously talking about a short-term extension because state DOTs are making decisions about the summer construction season now. “We need to give states some certainty about this construction season, one way or another, and that has to happen long before the end of May,” he said.

WE’RE ROCKING FRIDAY. Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Your MT host is wondering if any loyal readers are going to the CPAC transportation panel this weekend. If so, I’d love a readout so drop me a line!

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“Train bridge where we spray paint Skynyrd and the gold flakes glimmered in the cinnamon booze…”

COMMERCE COMMITTEE MOVES WHISTLEBLOWER BILL: The Senate Commerce Committee has given the green light to a bill that would encourage more auto industry whistleblowers. The bill, by Thune and ranking member Bill Nelson, would offer whistleblowers a third of any fines NHTSA collects, up to $1 million. The committee also approved two TSA reform bills that easily passed the House earlier this month.

On to nominations: Committee members also approved a slew of nominations including Christopher Hart, currently NTSB’s acting chairman. In addition, the committee gave the thumbs up for NTSB nominee T. Bella Dinh-Zarr and DOT assistant secretary nominee Carlos Monje Jr. The trio must still be confirmed by the full Senate before they’re official.

NTSB CHIEF TALKS RESTRUCTURING: Just hours after the Senate Commerce Committee approved Hart’s nomination, the acting chairman spoke at an Aero Club lunch about his priorities for the safety agency. Hart, who has served as acting chairman since April 2014, said one of his top priorities is redesigning the way the agency conducts investigations “from scratch.” He said the main focus of the redesign will have two parts, including incorporating “major IT improvements” that have happened in recent years such as photos and videos from accident eyewitnesses and even experimenting with presenting final investigation reports as videos. The other focus is better consideration of the “internationalism” of the aviation industry and other countries and organizations that conduct investigations, including ICAO.

A timeline for the changes: Hart said he doesn’t have a specific timeline for the changes but would like to see the redesign well under way during his two-year tenure as chairman. “During my acting [administrator] career, I’ve told the staff this is not a holding pattern. I don’t intend to just maintain the status quo. In fact, I want to see two things – I want to see continuous improvement and I want to see improved collaboration, both internal and external,” he said.

SCHAKOWSKY UNVEILS NHTSA BILL: Rep. Jan Schakowsky is set to introduce auto safety legislation today similar to the bill she and then-Rep. Henry Waxman introduced last year. The bill would require NHTSA to make more auto safety information public, make its safety databases easier to search and increase the amount the agency can fine automakers. It also bars regional recalls, bans the sale of cars that are subject to recall and establishes a $3 fee on every car sold in the United States to fund NHTSA’s safety program. That fee would escalate to $9 over three years. Other new provisions require NHTSA to begin looking at pedestrian deaths and require senior executives at manufacturers to sign off on reports to NHTSA. Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone has signed on as a co-sponsor. Here’s a fact sheet:

PILOTS RIGHTS 2.0: A bipartisan group of general aviation pilots in the House and Senate, including Sen. Jim Inhofe, have introduced a bill to expand on the Pilots Bill of Rights legislation passed by Congress in 2012. This Bill of Rights 2.0 would expand certain medical exemptions and add legal protections for pilots facing FAA enforcement. Lawmakers also introduced the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act this week, which includes similar medical exemption language. Read a letter of support for the Bill of Rights from several aviation groups, including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association:

SO LONG, FAREWELL: MT would like to take a quick minute to bid a fond farewell to Brian Farber, DOT’s communications guru and an all-around nice guy. Starting out in the press office at the FTA in 2010, Brian jumped to deputy public affairs director in the secretary’s office last year. Always quick to respond to MT’s calls or emails no matter the topic – a rarity in Washington – Brian will be greatly missed. “This has been the opportunity of a lifetime,” Brian says in a goodbye note this morning about his time working for both Foxx and former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Over the past few months, Secretary Foxx has crisscrossed the United States sparking conversation about the type of country we ought to be in the future. His optimism and thoughtfulness are inspiring and contagious.”


-Rep. Paul Ryan open to change in federal toll laws. The Journal Times:

-Who’s to blame for exploding oil trains? Bloomberg:

-Mailbag: 42 state chambers of commerce call on Congress to make transportation investment “a top priority.” Read the letter:

-Phew. Metro says no fare increases or big service cuts on the horizon. The Washington Post:

-Audi revives electric car to take on BMW, Tesla. Bloomberg:

-Did federal air marshals rearrange their flight schedules for sexual trysts? Reveal News:

-Here are some cool historical maps and charts from Amtrak’s birth. Atlantic Cities:

-And we cap the week with a self-described “rant” on why passengers should care about Open Skies. Airline Reporter:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 93 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 215 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 620 days.

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