Transportation News for March 16, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on March 16, 2015


POLITICO Morning Transportation for 3/16/2015

By HEATHER CAYGLE, with help from Kathryn A. Wolfe and Kevin Robillard

THE DAY AHEAD: Today the House is back after a weeklong recess that left one half of the Capitol quiet. Both chambers will be in session for the next two weeks before taking a two-week holiday recess. This evening, the Senate will vote on the nomination of Carlos Monje Jr. to serve as assistant Transportation secretary for policy. Since February 2014, Monje has been a counselor to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. Also tonight, Foxx will be at the Council on Foreign Relations to talk about his 30-year transportation vision. The event kicks off at 6 p.m. and you can tune in here:
Other Hill happenings this afternoon: Rep. Tim Ryan joins Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, for an afternoon press call urging Congress to focus on passing a multi-year highway and transit bill instead of negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And the AAPA will be at the Capitol along with members of the PORTS Caucus for a staff briefing.

TUESDAY: You’ll probably need the luck of the Irish to keep up with everything that’s happening on this busy St. Patrick’s Day. The House Transportation Committee kicks things off at 9:30 a.m. with a hearing on the transportation reauthorization. Also in the morning, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta will testify before a House Appropriations panel on the agency’s fiscal 2016 budget request. At the same time, a House Homeland Security subcommittee will hold a hearing on the visa waiver program with U.S. Travel Association President Roger Dow set to testify. In the afternoon, acting TSA administrator Melvin Carraway will testify before the Senate Commerce aviation subcommittee. And if that wasn’t enough, the Chamber of Commerce is holding a daylong aviation summit with House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster as one of the keynote speakers.

REMAINDER OF THE WEEK: Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will testify before the Senate Appropriations THUD subcommittee on Wednesday morning. And on Thursday, National Journal hosts Foxx and Shuster for a discussion on the Highway Trust Fund. TSA’s Carraway will be on the Hill again Thursday, this time for a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the agency’s budget. And the House Appropriations transportation panel will have leaders from several DOT modes — FHWA, FTA, NHTSA and MARAD — to testify on budget requests for their agencies.

OPEN SKIES SPAT RAGES ON: The Open Skies battle between U.S. carriers and Gulf airlines is heating up this week as representatives from Emirates and Etihad are expected in Washington to lobby their position. And before his meeting with U.S. officials today, Emirates Airline President Tim Clark decided to make a little news over the weekend. In an interview with the Financial Times published Sunday, Clark said “all options are on the table,” including legal action, in terms of fighting the U.S. carriers (read the full interview:

Media war: First up, Americans for Fair Skies has launched a new TV ad targeting the U.A.E. and Qatar airlines (watch it here: But that’s not all. The group, led by former ALPA President Lee Moak, also has a series of ads at D.C.’s Navy Yard metro stop — you know the station right across from DOT headquarters.

Zuckman tapped as spokeswoman: And Jill Zuckman has been tapped as spokeswoman for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, whose members includes Delta, United and American in addition to four labor unions, including ALPA. You probably remember Zuckman as DOT director of public affairs and a senior adviser to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

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

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“Not everybody drives a truck, not everybody drinks sweet tea…”

ROSEKIND’S ‘TWO-YEAR SPRINT’: NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind on Friday laid out a plan for what he called a “two-year sprint” to bolster the auto safety regulator before he leaves office, declaring: “There is no time to waste.” But Rosekind, on his 81st day in office Friday, also got a preview of the challenges facing him when two audience members at the Consumer Federation of America assembly challenged him on his agency’s strong ties to the auto industry and the “revolving door” existing between the two. “I’m going to make sure there is no regulatory capture, at least while I’m there for two years,” he said. “All of you know this: People will leave. What I can control is that at the very top, our decisions will be made in the best interest of the consumer.” Read Kevin’s story:

FEINBERG: ENERGY INDUSTRY NEEDS TO DO MORE — Acting FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg says the energy industry should step up and do more to make the transport of crude oil by rail safer, adding that railroads have gone “above and beyond.” “We are running out of things that I think we can ask the railroads to do,” Feinberg told reporters at a briefing at DOT headquarters Friday. “[W]e are getting to a point where I think we’re running out of things that we can put on the railroads to do, and there have to be other industries that have skin in the game,” she added. When pressed about what other industries, she responded that she has been “calling on the energy industry to do more for weeks, if not months. Quietly for months, much more vocally for weeks.”

Sidenote: The American Petroleum Institute fired off a response to Feinberg’s comments, saying preventing crude-by-rail accidents requires a “holistic approach” by all involved. “Our industry will not stop working until the goal of zero incidents is achieved,” API spokesman Brian Straessle said.

Other key takeaways:

—Stabilization issue a heavy lift: Green groups and others pushing for oil stabilization to be made part of the final rule on tank car standards may be disappointed. Feinberg didn’t outright say stabilization wouldn’t be part of the rule but did say adding that in would significantly draw out the rulemaking process. “To have added something like [stabilization] to the rule, first of all, now, it would slow it down incredibly. But to have added that at any point, I think would have slowed it down significantly, and also, it would’ve brought additional agencies into the rulemaking,” Feinberg said. Read more:

—Leaky tank car valves must be replaced: Feinberg also announced that FRA is requiring leaky valves found on some 6,000 tank cars to be replaced within the next 60 days. The FRA ordered the replacement of the unapproved valves, which can be found on the older DOT 111 tank cars, because of concerns they are leaking hazardous materials. Feinberg said the part had been submitted to the Association of American Railroads tank car committee for approval, but it was never actually approved. However, McKenzie marketed the valve as if it was approved, resulting in its installation in thousands of tank cars. The FRA has now instituted a “deep dive” into AAR’s parts approval process. The leaky valves are not related to ongoing concerns about the safety of unit trains transporting crude oil. Read more:

BLUMENTHAL BLASTS GUARDRAIL TESTS: Federal highway officials released data Friday showing that the questionable Trinity ET-Plus guardrails passed recent safety tests, but Sen. Richard Blumenthal isn’t buying it, issuing a scathing statement in response. “FHWA’s unacceptable pattern of inadequate oversight unfortunately continues today. The FHWA has given the ET-Plus a passing grade after allowing the manufacturer to conduct sham tests rife with flaws,” he said in a statement. “For more than three years, despite a growing chorus of concerns and regular red flags from dozens of states, a federal court, counties, and potential victims, the agency that attests to the safety of these guardrails — the FHWA — has done little to rid the road of these potentially dangerous devices.” And see FHWA’s analysis here:

GM SETTLES IGNITION SWITCH CASE: “A landmark ignition-switch lawsuit against General Motors was settled today, but details are confidential. The case was brought by the parents of Brooke Melton, who died in 2010 on her 29th birthday when the faulty ignition switch in her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt failed and the car went out of control. … Depositions collected in that earlier suit showed that GM knew about the defective switches at least as far back at 2004 — though it failed to begin recalling millions of vehicles equipped with the switches until 2014,” USA Today reported Friday. Read more:


-Tesla CEO promises to end “range anxiety” associated with owning an electric car. USA Today:

-The DOT inspector general lists the agency’s three most important open recommendations for the department. Letter:

-Well hello there Cuba. Direct flights from JFK to Havana start this week. The New York Post:

-Northstar transit in Minneapolis refunds passengers for late trains. The Star Tribune: (h/t Maggie Chan)

-The “crazy effort” it takes to clear snow from airport runways: Wired:

-Transit union wants Louisiana executive to resign after racial comments. The Hill:

-U.S. export rules for drones expected to boost sales, particularly leading up to summer Paris Air Show. Pro:

-Utah Legislature approves gas tax hike at last minute. Salt Lake Tribune:

-Opinion: Better transit can’t wait. The Washington Post: (h/t Bob King)

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 76 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 198 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 604 days.