Transportation News for June 23, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on June 23, 2015


POLITICO Morning Transportation for 6/23/2015

By JENNIFER SCHOLTES, with help from Heather Caygle

NHTSA FACES SERIOUS GRILLING FOLLOWING SCATHING REPORTS: With fresh fodder for criticizing the nation’s recall agency and the auto industry, the Senate Commerce Committee calls NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind to testify today about the Takata airbag recall and the agency’s vehicle safety work. When the panel scheduled the hearing, the DOT’s inspector general had yet to release a report ( finding that NHTSA missed major signs of faulty GM ignition switches and didn’t have a workforce knowledgeable enough to properly evaluate the situation. And it wasn’t until last night that the committee’s minority staff released a 45-page report ( stating that “internal emails obtained by the Committee suggest that Takata may have prioritized profit over safety by halting global safety audits for financial reasons.” But those new documents will surely dominate discussion during this morning’s hearing.
Watch live at 10 a.m.:

‘Disconcerting’ findings: Chairman John Thune said in a statement to MT on Monday that “weaknesses in NHTSA’s ability to conduct accurate data analysis and provide necessary training and supervision call into question whether the agency can effectively identify and investigate potential safety problems and carry out its safety mission. These findings are especially disconcerting given the scale and complexity of the Takata defects.”

Public explanation: Our Kathryn A. Wolfe reports that Thune’s impassioned response to the report suggests the agency “will face a serious grilling” during today’s hearing. “NHTSA’s mismanagement of resources means key safety defects may not even be targeted for investigation,” Thune said when the report came out. “These issues cannot be solved just by throwing money at the department. NHTSA owes the public an explanation.”

The panel’s Democrats agree. Sens. Edward Markey and Richard Blumenthal said in a statement Monday that the IG’s report “further underscores our assertions that NHTSA has failed to use, disclose and in some cases even understand reports and documents it obtains from automakers and consumers that are supposed to provide early warnings of deadly automobile defects.”

SENATE APPROPRIATORS PUT MARK ON THUD TODAY: Senators controlling the federal checkbook for transportation programs will meet this morning to lay out the chamber’s initial negotiating position for fiscal 2016 spending levels. Although House appropriators reported their THUD bill out of committee more than a month ago, their Senate counterparts are just getting started, meeting for a subcommittee markup today.

A refresher on the measure the House passed last month: Watch the Senate markup at 10 a.m.:

NO LOOSE LIPS HERE: The EPW Committee is planning to roll out its ambitious multiyear reauthorization later this morning, but committee leaders weren’t ready to spill the beans last night on the bill they plan to mark up tomorrow morning. Heather reports that the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Barbara Boxer, would only say the bill is “more robust” than the 2012 reauthorization and Chairman Jim Inhofe wasn’t much more revealing. “Here it is, are you ready? It’s a six-year bill,” Inhofe said Monday night when asked to slip a couple of bill secrets.

‘Someone else’s genius’: And what about that fancy new name? Inhofe said he can’t take credit for coining the “DRIVE Act” (Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act), a more transportation-themed title than its MAP-21 predecessor. “It’s not my genius. It’s somebody else’s genius,” Inhofe said.

Topline hints: A source that has a copy of the bill — but is holding it with a white-knuckled grip — says the legislation would lay out about $1 billion annually for six years and set aside another $2 billion a year for a new dedicated national freight program. And a senior Senate staffer lets on that the legislation includes increased funding levels for core transportation formula programs and funding priority for the Interstate System, the National Highway System and bridges.

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

Reach out: or @jascholtes.

“Yodel-deedle ay-hee, you oughta see my car. I drive a big old Cadillac with wire wheels — got rhinestones on the spokes.” (H/t Mark Palmer)

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NEW TSA HEAD TAKES ON TALL TASK: Peter Neffenger breezed through the congressional vetting process this spring, securing overwhelming Senate support on Monday to take the post of TSA administrator. But now comes the hard part: actually running the nation’s most unpopular and possibly most ineffective federal agency.

High expectations: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear before the chamber voted to confirm Neffenger this week that Congress will be closely watching the nominee’s work, ready to hold him accountable if he fails to swiftly turn around the ailing security branch. “The American people will be counting on Mr. Neffenger to validate the trust their elected representatives place in him tonight by pursuing every necessary reform in the wake of such troubling findings,” McConnell said. “The Senate appears to have confidence he can. There’s no doubt the Senate — and the American people — will be expecting he will.” And Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune said “the difficult work for TSA and its workforce is still ahead.”

An impossible mission? Looking beyond Neffenger’s impressive Coast Guard credentials and his popularity among senators, the underlying and largely unspoken concern is that nobody is good enough to fix TSA at this point, given the recent IG investigation exposing the TSA’s failure to detect 67 out of 70 covert attempts to sneak weapons and explosives through airport checkpoints. More from Pro:

MURKOWSKI: IF SANCTIONS ON IRAN GO, SO SHOULD THE U.S. OIL EXPORT BAN: Morning Energy’s Darius Dixon reports that, with the next deadline approaching in the multiparty talks around Iran’s nuclear program, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski is out with a new report today pressing her latest argument for lifting the U.S. crude oil export ban. “Connecting the dots between these matters leads to one inescapable conclusion: the U.S. should not lift sanctions on Iranian oil while maintaining its prohibition on exports of American oil,” the report states. The report:

IT’S TAKE TWO FOR STB’S OLD CHAIRMAN: Daniel Elliott is back on the STB after a nearly six-month lapse between terms. Without much ado, the Senate voted Monday to allow Elliott to return to the Surface Transportation Board, where he used to serve as chairman before his last stint expired in December.

CRUMBLING INFRASTRUCTURE? KEEP COOL: The EPA has released a new report arguing that efforts to slow climate change could keep the nation’s transportation infrastructure from falling apart so quickly, saving the nation billions of dollars. The agency says an international push to limit warming to 2 degrees above industrial levels would prevent structural damage in 720 to 2,200 bridges in 85 years, prevent $3.1 billion in property and other damages from sea-level rise at that point and avoid $50 million to $6.4 billion in adaptation costs related to urban drainage in 50 U.S. cities. Pro rundown: The report:

PRIVACY GROUP GOES AFTER UBER’S NEW POLICIES: In an FTC complaint against Uber, a major privacy group says the company’s new privacy policy (which goes into effect in three weeks) opens the door for abuse of user data, such as the tracking of riders’ locations even when they’re not using the app. Uber says “there is no basis for this complaint” and that the updated privacy polices “don’t reflect a shift” in practices. But the company acknowledges that the new statement allows the company more leeway to do things like use riders’ contact lists to make it easier to share rides with friends. The FTC complaint: More from Pro Tech’s Nancy Scola: (

CANADA SEEKS MORE PUNISHMENT FOR LAC-MEGANTIC DERAILMENT: The Canadian government continues to try to hold people accountable for the 2013 oil train derailment that killed more than 40 people in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, announcing new charges this week against those accused of violating rail safety and environmental laws. Pro’s Elana Schor reports that “the new charges follow an investigation that ‘found that an insufficient number of handbrakes were applied to the train and that the handbrakes were not tested properly,’ Canada’s transportation ministry said in its announcement.” More from Pro:

TOP PHMSA NOMINEE TAKES DEPUTY POST: While awaiting Senate confirmation to be PHMSA head, Marie Therese Dominguez will be spending her days as the agency’s No. 2. The Obama administration announced Monday that the nominee would be taking the deputy post at the agency in charge of fuel transportation and oil train safety regulations. More from Pro’s Elana Schor:

MOVING ON UP: Rod Hall, FAA’s former assistant administrator for government affairs, is off to K Street to work at K&L Gates. Hall spent a half-decade with the agency before making this move and was deputy chief of staff for Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson before that.


— Toyota finds airbags are in demand on world’s deadliest roads. Bloomberg Business:

— Airline checked bag, reservation change fees set 1st quarter record. AP:

— Seattle is rewarding drivers who yield to pedestrians and cyclists. CityLab:

— Reno bets Tesla gigafactory will erase image as downmarket Vegas. Bloomberg Business:

— Radar failure in New Zealand temporarily grounds all flights. AP:

— Getting monarch butterflies to hit the highways in Virginia. The Washington Post:

— Why cycletrack networks should be the next great American transit project. The Washington Post:

— The man who landed a gyrocopter at the U.S. Capitol rejects a plea deal that involves ‘significant jail time.’ AP:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 39 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 100 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 506 days.