Transportation News for March 4, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on March 4, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 3/4/2015

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

HOUSE RAIL VOTE TODAY: Nope, you didn’t accidentally wake up in some Bill Murray “Groundhog Day” scenario, MT reader. Expected House floor action on the Amtrak reauthorization was put off until today after a whirlwind Tuesday. The postponement follows a very hectic day in the House that included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing a joint meeting of Congress and lawmakers voting to end the DHS stalemate by passing a clean funding bill. Now the House is slated to turn its attention to the passenger rail reauthorization and the handful of amendments also up for a vote.
MIDWEEK HAPPENINGS: Aside from the House rail vote, there are also a few other transpo happenings on and around the Hill to look out for today. This morning, the Senate Homeland Security Committee meets to mark up several bills, including Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s legislation boosting training for first responders who could come in contact with crude oil train accidents. And the Senate Commerce transportation subcommittee will hear testimony from FMCSA and the NTSB as the panel prepares to ramp up work on the highway safety portion of the reauthorization. Off the Hill, several House lawmakers and staffers will be talking about the FAA reauthorization at the ACI-NA/AAAE legislative conference (full agenda:

UH-OH: COULD KEYSTONE HOLD UP THE HIGHWAY BILL? Senate EPW Chairman Jim Inhofe said he supports advancing the Keystone XL pipeline so much that he’s willing to try “anything,” including possibly adding the pipeline’s approval into the must-pass transportation bill. Elana Schor with more: “While Republicans vow to keep the pipeline alive by attaching it to other must-pass bills that Obama might find harder to veto, Keystone may yet resurface attached to an appropriations bill rather than the transportation measure. Inhofe added that he wants to ensure the decision about whether to take up Keystone during the transportation bill debate is made collectively among Republicans. He acknowledged that the move ‘could’ sour transportation bill talks with his Democratic counterpart and previous partner on the popular legislation, Sen. Barbara Boxer.”

MT reality check: But even with Inhofe’s Keystone comments, that’s highly unlikely to happen. The Oklahoma senator has said repeatedly his top priority is moving a long-term highway bill and it’s pretty far-fetched to think he would poison that (and his relationship with Boxer) by attaching a Keystone rider.

THUNE LOOKS TO RECLASSIFY PORT WORKERS: Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune wants to move port employees under a more business-friendly labor law to prevent future labor issues following the months-long West Coast dispute. “Since the slowdown, many have asked if there’s a better way to handle labor issues at our ports instead of relying on the National Labor Relations Act,” Thune said at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday. “Some have even suggested using the Railway Labor Act, which protects transportation workers in the railroad and airline industries while providing robust contract mediation procedures while also providing our nation’s supply chain with additional protections.” Kevin has more, including DOT’s resistance to such a move:

DEMOCRATS TAKE ACTION ON DRONE PRIVACY: Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Peter Welch have introduced a bill requiring drone operators to turn over information on their privacy practices to the FAA and mandating the agency creating a database of drone operators and their privacy policies. The bill would also require the database to include information on any data security breaches and on the time and location of drone flights. The bill comes after several lawmakers expressed concerns about possible FAA action in the realm of drone privacy. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta was questioned about drones by lawmakers Tuesday (more on that below). Read the bill:

OHHHH, WE’RE HALFWAY THERE. Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

Got any good scoops, tips, complaints or transportation trivia? Hit me up at hcaygle@politico.comor send a tweet: @heatherscope. And don’t forget to follow @Morning_Transpo and @POLITICOPro.

“Well, that long black train got my baby and gone…”

CANTWELL TO UNVEIL TANK CAR BILL: Sen. Maria Cantwell plans to introduce a bill mandating tougher standards for crude-by-rail tank cars, saying the pending DOT rule doesn’t go far enough. “I want to be clear and on the record: I will be introducing legislation to support a thicker hull and quicker phase-out than what is currently proposed,” Cantwell said at the Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday. “We are not moving fast enough. I think the uncertainty in the marketplace over the past decade has not kept up with the volume of the traffic we are seeing. I look forward to seeing your rule coming out,” she told Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

** A Message from Americans for Fair Skies: The subsidizing of Middle East airlines by their governments represents the largest trade violation in history. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are violating agreements they signed with the U.S. It’s time to restore competition to our skies. It’s time to restore fairness to Open Skies. Learn more at **

RECAP: HUERTA ON THE HILL — FAA Administrator Michael Huerta testified before the House Transportation aviation panel Tuesday and answered a range of questions on topics from drones to recently exposed cybersecurity weaknesses in the air traffic control system. House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster said it’s time for a “more intense debate” about overhauling the air traffic control system. Huerta didn’t throw cold water on the idea but warned about possible “unintended consequences” of an overhaul. Here are some other highlights:

All drones, all the time: Huerta asked lawmakers to consider tweaking current law related to exemptions for the commercial use of drones so that the agency could approve more permits faster. “The challenge that we have is exemptions are granted to an individual or company for a specific purpose. The agency has very limited ability to grant blanket exemptions,” Huerta said. Aviation subcommittee ranking member Rick Larsen previously told MT he’s working on a similar plan for inclusion in the FAA reauthorization.

Huerta responds to cybersecurity concerns: The FAA leader tried to fend off lawmakers’ concern over a GAO report highlighting significant weaknesses in air traffic control cybersecurity, saying during the hearing that the “system is safe.” “I’ve got to say I’m very, very concerned,” ranking member Peter DeFazio said. “To me it’s a nightmare scenario. We know there is an enduring interest in terrorist groups in aviation.”

Colgan crash questions: DeFazio also questioned Huerta about the status of the remaining reforms stemming from the fatal 2009 Colgan Air crash, which involves creating a centralized pilot record database. Huerta said creating the database is difficult but that the agency hopes to have a resolution “in the not-so-distant future.” “This one is technically very difficult for us to work through … in a way that ensures it meets the appropriate cost-benefit hurdles,” he told DeFazio.

SENATE SEXTET WANTS GUARDRAIL ANSWERS: Six Democratic senators want the GAO to audit the Federal Highway Administration’s inspection of roadside safety equipment. Congress has focused on the issue since a successful lawsuit against the manufacturers of defective ET-Plus guardrail end terminals and subsequent federally mandated equipment testing. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said there was an “all-too-cozy relationship” between FHWA and roadside hardware manufacturers. “The testing being done by the Federal Highway Administration is inadequate,” Blumenthal said. Read the letter:

LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE ON PFC: The gloves are off in the PFC fight. Airport groups and their allies threw some punches Tuesday after the release of an A4A poll overnight that suggested a majority of those surveyed don’t support increasing the cap on Passenger Facility Charges. ACI-NA and AAAE blasted out a video Tuesday calling the poll “hot air” and pounding airlines about what travelers hate about the flying experience, including paying fees for bags and snacks, uncomfortable seats and poor customer service. “Time for a new poll: Who is annoyed when airlines don’t tell their customers the truth?” the video asks in a text crawl. Read Kathryn’s story: and watch the video:


-DOT announces one-year pilot program where cities will be able to give hiring preference to local residents, veterans and low-income earners. Kevin has more:

-Meet the TSA employee who runs the agency’s super-popular Instagram account. AdWeek:

-Airlines banning shipments of rechargeable battery in light of mounting safety concerns. The AP:

-More than 70 passengers reach settlement in Asiana San Francisco crash. USA Today:

-Automakers gear up to take on Apple, Google. The Wall Street Journal:

-More than 1 in 3 truckers killed in accidents during 2012 weren’t buckled up. The CDC:

-TSA workers can rest easy after House ends stalemate over DHS funding:

-Sens. Ron Wyden and Mike Crapo introduce bill to boost short line rail investment:

-Automakers make argument for addressing currency manipulation in Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Pro:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 88 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 210 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 615 days.

Thanks for reading, y’all.

YOU’RE INVITED: Join POLITICO’s Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen, Thursday, March 5, for a lunch conversation about diversity, race and the millennial generation as part of the series, Solving for Y: Exploring Opportunities for the Next Generation. RSVP here:

** A Message from Americans for Fair Skies: Americans love competition. But competition is only possible if all competitors abide by the same set of rules and the playing field is level. Unfortunately, Middle East governments and their subsidized airlines are playing by their own set of rules and violating Open Skies Agreements that were created for fair and open competition. Qatar, Etihad, and Emirates Airways are merely arms of their government monarchies from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar and they have no obligation or expectation to make a profit.

That status quo is unsustainable for the U.S. aviation industry. Tens of thousands of U.S. jobs are at risk unless action is taken. The U.S. government must take action to restore fairness to our Open Skies. Learn more at **