Transportation News for March 18, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on March 18, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 3/18/2015

By HEATHER CAYGLE, with help from Kevin Robillard

STB BILL ON THE HORIZON: Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune could roll out his rail reform bill as soon as today with a markup next week. “With the exception of maybe a couple of minor tweaks, I think it’s pretty much the same bill. You’ll see the same STB reforms in it,” he told MT, comparing the bill to the legislation he introduced last fall with then-Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller. This time around, Thune said he’s hoping to get committee ranking member Bill Nelson as a co-sponsor with a markup likely March 25. “The only question, of course, is how does it move from here and how does it marry up with what the House did on passenger [rail], because that’s kind of the direction they’re headed in. They haven’t done anything on freight and our committee has been more interested in the freight issue,” he said.
So what happens after that? “Hopefully we’ll be able to get this moving and then we’ll see if there’s a vehicle it can be attached to. Perhaps that’s an infrastructure bill, some kind of highway bill, down the road — usually there’s a rail title in that — if we end up with a long-term bill. If we end up with a short-term patch, then probably not,” he said.

T&I LEADERS WANT TO STAMP OUT DEVOLUTION: Transportation advocacy groups aren’t the only ones trying to put the kibosh on any kind of devolution talk as work on the highway and transit bill ramps up. Leaders of the House Transportation Committee have made it public enemy No. 1. At a Tuesday hearing, T&I ranking member Peter DeFazio declared his desire to shun the idea once and for all. “We still have a few devolutionists around here,” DeFazio said. “I just want to put a nail in the coffin, a stake through the heart and garlic around the neck.” DeFazio used his first question to ask witnesses to outline why devolution would be a bad idea. Committee chairman Bill Shuster used his first question for the same purpose. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe did the same at a hearing in the upper chamber last month. Make sure to check out Kevin’s story:

MT FIRST LOOK: DRONE HEARING ON THE DOCKET — Sen. Kelly Ayotte, chairwoman of the Commerce aviation panel, will convene a hearing next week on drones, the FAA’s effort to integrate the unmanned systems into the airspace and related privacy issues. Witnesses from the FAA, NITSA, GAO, Brookings, Amazon, and the Farm Bureau are slated to testify at the Tuesday afternoon hearing.

BUDGET DAY, PART DEUX: House Republicans rolled out their budget plan Tuesday and while it was mostly a symbolic GOP wish list that promises to slash federal spending by $5.5 trillion over 10 years (, the proposal is getting pushback from the White House on infrastructure. President Barack Obama criticized the House plan for failing to invest in critical areas, including transportation. “It’s not a budget that reflects the future,” Obama said. “We’re going to have a robust debate and my hope is … that ultimately we’ll find some compromises where together we are financing … the building of roads and bridges and ports, railways, all the things that we need to grow and put people back to work.” Senate Republicans release their budget plan today with a markup scheduled for this afternoon. The House Budget Committee will also mark up its proposal today.

WEDNESDAYS ARE WACKY AROUND HERE. Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports. St. Patrick’s Day may be over but this Irish lass has year-round pride for her family’s original homeland. Corned beef and cabbage for everyone! Just kidding, but maybe a Guinness or two?

Let’s chat! Send scoops, tips, complaints and transpo trivia my way via or @heatherscope. And don’t forget to follow @Morning_Transpo and @POLITICOPro.

“Why ya gotta be so far away? Why do plane tickets gotta cost an arm and a leg?” (h/t Adam Snider)

FAA BILL: LET’S DO SOMETHING BIG — There was lots of FAA reauthorization chatter on and off the Hill on Tuesday. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta laid out his reauthorization priorities before a House Appropriations panel ( and talked about how the agency is just now recovering from impacts of the 2013 sequestration ( And T&I leader Bill Shuster talked about his FAA priorities at the Chamber of Commerce aviation summit, repeating his stance that it’s time to do something big and bold. “I thought it was so critical to start this conversation because it’s so complicated,” Shuster said in response to some people who asked him why he’d take on a highway bill and an FAA reauthorization at the same time.

WHERE DA GOLD AT? The Chamber summit also featured a funny (and timely) exchange over the passenger facility charge. Officials from ACI-NA and Airlines for America were taking their usual opposing stances on the PFC when A4A Vice President Sharon Pinkerton busted out this quip: “Let’s face it — leprechauns are sitting on a pot of gold, yet they want more,” she said, talking about the airports. Your MT host tweeted the remark, prompting ACI-NA’s communications coordinator Mimi Ryals to respond with “Airports want to know where the gold’s at,” referencing the infamous Mobile, Ala., leprechaun newscast. If you haven’t seen it, MT highly recommends you check it out, it’s a classic:

TSA CHIEF FIELDS QUESTIONS ON RAIL SAFETY: Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Joe Manchin are wondering why the TSA’s budget for surface transportation is dropping despite a massive increase in crude-by-rail transportation and a series of attacks on trains outside the United States. At a Senate Commerce aviation panel hearing Tuesday, Booker said there have been more than 2,000 attacks on transit systems worldwide since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and questioned why the agency’s budget request for surface transportation dropped for fiscal year 2016 (90 percent of the agency’s budget goes to aviation safety). “This is unacceptable to me,” Booker said.

Acting TSA administrator Melvin Carraway had few answers for Manchin, who questioned how the agency would protect trains moving crude oil by rail, which he seemed to suggest could making a tempting target for terrorists. “We’re in jeopardy of losing an awful lot of lives,” Manchin said. “All those sectors within rail, pipeline are important to me and to my staff as well,” Carraway responded. But he said he would need to get back to Manchin with more details.

Related: Environmental groups have filed a FOIA request with DOT over communications with oil and rail lobbyists regarding the crude-by-rail regs:

MANCHIN: CAN I GET THOSE PEN KNIVES BACK? Manchin had another request for Carraway: He wants his pen knives back. Manchin told the acting administrator he often receives small knives as gifts but he frequently forgets he’s carrying them and they get confiscated at airports. “If there was a way I could reclaim them, tell me where to go. There were some really sentimental ones in there I lost. I’d like to try to reclaim them.” Carraway told a staffer to help Manchin with his quest.

WELCOME TO THE TEAM: The Pro Transportation team has a new member joining today and we’re pretty excited about it! Jennifer Scholtes comes to us from CQ, where she’s been covering homeland security and the TSA. Give her a warm welcome via email ( or on Twitter (@jascholtes).

Also, MT would like to belatedly congratulate Emily Goff, who joined the House Budget Committee this week as a staffer specializing in transportation policy. Goff was previously The Heritage Foundation’s go-to transpo wonk.


-Bill intro time, y’all: Sens. Roger Wicker and Cory Booker are back with their bill to give cities and counties more control over how they spend federal transportation dollars. Bill text here:

-Postponed: Today’s Senate Appropriations THUD hearing with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has been postponed because the DOT chief is still recovering from knee surgery.

-Run, baby, run: Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s son Darin LaHood is considering running for Rep. Aaron Schock’s seat following the Illinois lawmaker’s resignation announcement Tuesday. The younger LaHood is currently a state senator. The Chicago Tribune:

-Coming attractions: Toyota’s zero-emissions hydrogen vehicle, the Mirai, arrives in DC today as the last stop on a four-day tour that aims to draw attention to the lack of East Cost hydrogen infrastructure.

-Fly in today: The United Motorcoach Association’s annual Capitol fly-in is today with nearly 75 attendees canvassing the Hill on several issues including changes to FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program.


-Track conditions may have played a role in Canadian oil-train derailments. The Wall Street Journal:

-Draft DOT IG report questions effectiveness of MWAA’s internal auditors. The Washington Post:

-Gulf carriers reject claims of government subsidies. The Wall Street Journal:

-Text convo details scary ordeal as passenger charged the cockpit during flight. The Washington Post:

-One day on the London Tube, condensed into two minutes. CityLab:

-Why hasn’t Congress solved the Highway Trust Fund crisis? It all goes back to a lack of accountability, says Ed Wytkind. The Huffington Post:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 74 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 196 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 602 days.