Transportation News for May 6, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on May 6, 2015


POLITICO Morning Transportation for 5/6/2015


HUERTA OUTLINES TWO NEW DRONE INITIATIVES: Down in Georgia today, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta plans to announce two new drone initiatives at the AUVSI conference in the state’s capital. “Even as we pursue our current rulemaking effort for small unmanned aircraft, we continue to look for ways to help determine how we can safely expand their operations in the United States,” Huerta said in a written statement Tuesday. Track the news on Twitter via @FAANews and #faaUAS.

Also milling around that conference center today, Rep. Frank LoBiondo will be speaking, along with Hugh Herr, who heads the Biomechatronics research group at the MIT Media Lab.
2020 drone dreaming: A Consumer Electronics Association bigwig said Tuesday that the United States will see a million drone flights daily over the next two decades if regulators play ball on line-of-sight rules:

INDECISION AS TRANSPORTATION POLICY EXPIRATION LOOMS: Congress is barreling toward an end-of-May deadline to take action on the Highway Trust Fund, but you’d never know it by lawmakers’ actions. Senate Finance Committee members emerged from a Tuesday evening meeting seemingly in disarray on the path forward. And in this case, the disagreement over what happens next doesn’t fall along party lines. Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez and Tom Carper are backing a shorter patch, like the mid-summer plan being pushed by Senate EPW Chairman Jim Inhofe, saying it keeps the pressure on Congress to do something at the most critical point — when funding is expected to reach dangerously low levels.

Three choices: Carper said the options are falling rather cleanly into three buckets: extend policy and funding until the end of July, the end of the fiscal year or the end of the calendar year. “So we have three benchmarks here,” Carper told MT. “I think the first one’s a lot easier to agree to. The second one, to the end of the fiscal year — maybe. The end of the calendar year — not a good idea.” Carper argues that senators will be too preoccupied at year’s end and will undoubtedly punt again if they go that route. “At the end of the year, we’re in the middle of the presidential primaries,” he told us. “Half of the Senate Republican caucus is in Iowa and South Carolina and so forth. … I don’t want us to get to the end of the year and say, ‘Well, we haven’t figured this out yet again — we’ll kick the can down the road one more time and then pretend we’re going to do it again next year.’”

Getting up to speed: Carper said the meeting Tuesday was to get senators thinking about those options since they only have two and a half weeks of legislative work scheduled before transportation authority expires on May 31. “I don’t think people thought about it a whole lot. It was a really helpful meeting just in terms of getting people to focus,” he told us. “We need for the Republicans, some of the leadership folks, Chairman [Orrin] Hatch, to say: This is what I think we should do. And gather ideas from some of these folks.” Sen. Sherrod Brown echoed an impatience with GOP leaders, telling MT that “the majority seems to have no ideas for how we fund transportation, and we’re waiting for them to put something out there. We want to work with them, but they seem to have no ideas.”

Chamber of Commerce in line with Inhofe: Senators shying away from a year-end extension are on the same page with what top Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Janet Kavinoky said earlier in the day she expects the chamber will support. “… I think we’ve got to make sure that we keep their feet to the fire and they know they’re going to have to vote again and again until this is done,” she said after a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing. “My concern is that if we do an extension through the end of December, then we won’t come back to actually talking about this until the beginning of December.”

But it ain’t over yet: A clean extension of transpo policy into the summer may seem like the easiest choice, at least for now, but not all lawmakers are on board. Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch came out firmly against the idea after the Tuesday meeting, saying Congress needs more time to fix the problem. That’s a slight shift — Hatch told Heather last week that he’d back a July extension if it was part of a two-step process that was also likely to include a patch into December. Hatch isn’t the only one in the “December or bust” camp. Sen. Dean Heller left the meeting saying he supports that idea. And while Sen. John Thune didn’t explicitly come out in support of the Hatch plan, he seems to be leaning that way. “I’m open to whatever gets us to our end goal, and that to me is a longer-term bill where we’re not doing these things in six-month increments and putting Band-Aids on it every six months to a year,” he told Heather. “If we have a better chance of getting something at the end of the year and doing a six- or seven-month extension that takes us to that point, I’m fine with that.”

What’s next? We should know more after today. Inhofe told MT he plans to pitch his proposal during today’s weekly lunch gathering of Senate committee chairmen, including Hatch and Thune. And then there’s Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s ongoing threat to hold up a bipartisan trade bill unless the Senate takes action on highway funding. Reid got his digs in over the standoff on Tuesday, calling his chamber’s GOP majority “the extension cord administration” and chastising his colleagues for suggesting yet another temporary transportation authority extension. Burgess Everett and Manu Raju have more on Reid’s power play:

IT’S A WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

Reach out: or @jascholtes.

“A chug-a chug-a motion like a railroad train, now.”

OBAMA BLOWS PAST DEADLINE FOR NAMING PHMSA HEAD: By law, an agency is only supposed to be headed by an acting chief for 210 days. And the agency that oversees the safety of the nation’s oil trains and fossil-fuel pipelines has just exceeded that limit without the appointment of a permanent leader. Pro’s Andrew Restuccia and Elana Schor explain that the missed deadline is “part of a pattern for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, where an internal structure that gives deference to industry has helped stymie safety initiatives for years, even as pipeline accidents have caused more than 170 deaths, 670 injuries and $5 billion in property damage during the past decade. Critics say the agency is in dire need of an overhaul — and want [President Barack] Obama to appoint a leader who’s willing to carry one out.” More from Pro:

IG audit: At the request of House Transportation ranking member Peter DeFazio, DOT’s inspector general has just started an audit of PHMSA’s pipeline and hazmat safety programs. More from our Kathryn A. Wolfe: The audit announcement:

DROP THE MIC: A Tuesday Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on the transportation reauthorization was looking to be a real snoozer until Sen. Claire McCaskill got on the mic. The Missouri lawmaker lit into her fellow senators at the hearing, chiding them for grandstanding about the need for a multiyear surface transportation bill without actually making the tough choices to get it done. “We are all sitting around here, and we’re acting as if something is going to change as a result of this great hearing when full well everyone sitting here knows we’re talking about another patch,” she said.

We caught up later in the day with McCaskill, who had a unique comparison for the ongoing funding problem: “It’s a little bit like the Stockholm syndrome. When you’ve been captured in an environment where government-by-crisis is acceptable, it’s harder to see your way out of that kind of dysfunction,” she said. “Candidly, I kind of hoped that the Republicans would put their money where their mouth has been for the last several years … The notion that they haven’t even prepared a bill, other than a short-term patch, is a really bad sign.”

AIRLINES RAMP UP LOBBYING: POLITICO Influence reports that “Seaborne Airlines, Delta and Emirates have hired new lobbying firms this week. … Emirates has hired former Sen. Norm Coleman at Hogan Lovells to lobby on ‘all legislative and regulatory issues important to an international commercial airline serving the United States, including preservation of U.S. Open Skies policy and opposition to anti-competitive restrictions on international air services or other measures to restrict existing rights or services of Emirates,’ lobbying disclosures show.” More on that from Pro:

SEE TRACKS? THINK TRAIN!: Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit focused on rail safety, released its annual report this week, giving an update on the launch of its “See Tracks? Think Trank!” campaign to drive down accidents at grade crossings, as the numbers of both crossing collisions and trespassing casualties jumped from 2013 to 2014. Check out the report:

MT MAILBAG: Six lawmakers urged House and Senate leaders this week to hold the line on flights at DCA in their work on FAA reauthorization. But Kathy explains that, “considering Congress’ penchant for expanding flights in the past, it may be a quixotic quest.’” More from Pro: The letter:


— Democrats and Republicans both voting for car booking company with their wallets. Center for Public Integrity:

— Michigan voters reject tax increases for infrastructure. AP:

— U.S. licenses ferry service to operate Cuba route. New York Times:

— What Capital Bikeshare’s busiest bike says about open data. Nextgov:

— FAA grants Alaska company permission to use drones for business. Alaska Dispatch News:

— State laws start taking aim at drone users who snoop on their neighbors. Bloomberg Business:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 25 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 147 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 553 days.

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