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Infrastructure in the News 12.5.16

BAF IN THE NEWS

 

The Hill: Secretary LaHood and Gov. Rendell: Building infrastructure for the future can bring country together

http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/transportation/308688-building-infrastructure-for-the-future-can-bring-country

As President-elect Donald Trump and the incoming Congress turn to the work of governing, we need opportunities to bring the country together. We need to think big.

NATIONAL NEWS

 

Associated Press: Cars without drivers scoot around Nissan plant, towing cars

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/cars-without-drivers-scoot-around-nissan-plant-towing-cars/2016/12/05/73655028-baac-11e6-ae79-bec72d34f8c9_story.html?utm_term=.e6f883b26880

Nissan Motor Co. is testing self-driving cars at one of its plants in Japan that can tow vehicles on a trailer to the wharf for loading on transport ships.

 

ABC News 57: Top transportation safety officials say it's time to put seat belts on all school buses

http://www.abc57.com/story/33854154/top-transportation-safety-officials-say-its-time-to-put-seat-belts-on-all-school-buses

Top highway safety officials are renewing their recommendation to put seat belts on all school buses. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration held a conference Thursday in Washington with other top transportation officials. The main focus was school bus safety.

 

Fortune: How Trump’s Transportation Chief Could Help—or Hurt—Driverless Cars

http://fortune.com/2016/12/04/chao-transportation-driverless-car/

Elaine Chao’s record shows an allergy to regulation, but the right amount could help the industry.

 

The Hill: Driverless car industry embraces Trump’s Transportation pick

http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/308590-driverless-car-industry-embraces-trumps-transportation-pick

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Transportation secretary is receiving praise from one area of the auto world: the driverless car industry.

 

Mashable: Apple letter hints at self-driving Apple Car in the future

http://mashable.com/2016/12/03/apple-car-letter/#ahHueE_GQOqG

The Apple rumormongers simply won't let talk of an Apple Car die. Just months after reports indicated that there was, in fact, no Apple Car on the way, now a new document is sure to stoke the fires of Apple fans' hopes that the company's logo will grace an automobile in coming years.

 

Next Big Future: Hyperloop Transportation Technologies has raised $30 million in capital and $77 million in commitments and land rights

http://www.nextbigfuture.com/2016/12/hyperloop-transportation-technologies.html

Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) are the two main companies working on Elon Musk's vision of the Hyperloop. Both have set eyes on similar markets - the US, Emirates, Northern and Eastern Europe - to try and launch a first prototype of the innovation. Both are working on a magnetic levitation system that could allow the new means of transportation to reach speeds up to 760 mph (1220 Km/h).

 

Forbes: The Best Infrastructure Spending Plan Will Build No New Infrastructure

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffreydorfman/2016/12/04/the-best-infrastructure-spending-plan-will-build-no-new-infrastructure/#772c92d841d3

President-elect Donald Trump has promised to spend $1 trillion over ten years on infrastructure, both to stimulate the economy and to help repair and replace the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Given the Democrats’ fondness for both infrastructure and stimulus spending, this is one campaign promise likely to be kept, more or less. However, caution is in order. Depending on how the money is spent, we could get a lot of bang for our bucks or we could waste a lot of money. If we decide to spend $100 billion annually on infrastructure above current levels, we should at least do it right.

 

Quartz: Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan won’t work while he’s president

http://qz.com/851632/donald-trumps-infrastructure-plan-wont-work-while-hes-president/

One of the first rules you learn in economics is there is no free lunch. But for the last several years many economists made an exception when it came to infrastructure spending. Interest rates have been so low that the potential long-term national economic benefit from improving US infrastructure, such as roads, airports, bridges, and internet access, could easily outweigh the cost of borrowing money to do it. (Former US Treasury secretary Larry Summers nicely laid out that calculus here.)

STATE NEWS

 

New York Times: Citi Bike May Need Public Funding to Reach More New Yorkers

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/05/nyregion/citi-bike-may-need-public-funding-to-reach-more-new-yorkers.html?_r=0

Citi Bike stations have cropped up this year in brownstone Brooklyn and on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Next year, the blue bicycles will inch farther afield into Harlem and Astoria in Queens.

 

New York Times Editorial Board: Reduce Subway Fares for Poor New Yorkers

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/02/opinion/reduce-subway-fares-for-poor-new-yorkers.html

The news that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority may soon raise subway and bus fares by 25 cents — to $3 — has given urgency to an idea gathering support in the City Council. Why not subsidize half-price fares for New York City residents who live at or below the poverty line?

 

Associated Press: As transit fares soar, NYC advocates push for discounts

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/as-transit-fares-soar-nyc-advocates-push-for-discounts/2016/12/03/b7a81ad6-b971-11e6-939c-91749443c5e5_story.html?utm_term=.a159833bfdc4

For most New Yorkers, subways and buses are necessities of city living that fall right behind food, clothing and shelter. But with the price of 30-day MetroCard transit pass at $116.50, and possibly primed to rise as high as $121, they’re also on the verge of becoming unaffordable for the 1.7 million city residents living in poverty.

 

Washington Post: Uber threatens to pull out of Maryland if state requires fingerprint-based background checks

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/uber-is-threatening-to-leave-maryland-if-state-toughens-driver-screening-rules/2016/12/03/1080b1b2-b02c-11e6-be1c-8cec35b1ad25_story.html?utm_term=.412d09aaaa33

Maryland has become the latest battleground in the fight between Uber, Lyft and government regulators who say the companies must subject their drivers to more thorough screening.

 

New York Post: The real reason for New York City's traffic nightmare

http://nypost.com/2016/12/02/new-york-citys-traffic-is-intentionally-horrible/

Time for some traffic problems in Manhattan! City officials have intentionally ground Midtown to a halt with the hidden purpose of making drivers so miserable that they leave their cars at home and turn to mass transit or bicycles, high-level sources told The Post.

 

The Orange County Register: Private sector should be involved in state transportation fixes

http://www.ocregister.com/articles/improvement-737197-attack-suggesting.html

Donald Trump’s infrastructure improvement plan for America is under attack once again. The president-elect’s crime? Suggesting that private companies could play a role in rebuilding America’s water, transportation and energy systems.

 

Falthead Beacon: Trump’s Transportation Plans, and the Impact on Montana, Remain Unclear

http://flatheadbeacon.com/2016/12/04/trumps-transportation-plans-impact-montana-remain-unclear/

One-thousand, seven-hundred miles separates Washington D.C. from the Montana border, but decisions made in the nation’s capitol can have a profound impact on the Treasure State, especially when it involves transportation.

POLITICO Morning Transportation - By Brianna Gurciullo | 12/05/2016 05:40 AM EDT

With help from Tanya Snyder, Lauren Gardner and Annie Snider

NAI GETS APPROVAL FROM DOT: Transportation labor groups have reacted with outrage following DOT's final order giving Norwegian Air International permission to conduct flights to the United States. The order was served Friday, almost eight months after DOT made its tentative decision to give NAI, an Ireland-based subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle, a foreign air carrier permit and days after the European Commission kicked off the arbitration process over the airline's about three-year-old request.

'No avenue to reject this application': DOT made clear that it wasn't an easy decision. "This case is among the most novel and complex ever undertaken by the department," DOT said in its order. "Regardless of our appreciation of the public policy arguments raised by opponents, we have been advised that the law and our bilateral obligations leave us no avenue to reject this application." The department said it had based its tentative decision, now finalized, on legal analysis by its general counsel, the State Department and the Justice Department.

"While the delays Norwegian [has] faced have been unfortunate and unnecessary, ultimately the decision now made by the U.S. DOT finally paves the way for greater competition, more flights and more jobs on both sides of the Atlantic," NAI said in a statement.

HAPPY MONDAY: Thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Please send tips, feedback and, of course, song lyrics to bgurciullo@politico.com or @brigurciullo.

"How's that bricklayin' comin'? How's your engine runnin'? Is that bridge gettin' built? Are your hands gettin' filled? Won't you tell me, my brother?"

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LABOR GROUPS CONDEMN THE DECISION:

Edward Wytkind, the president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, argued that the way NAI runs its business defies provisions of the "open skies" agreement between the United States and European Union. "Clearly, a Norwegian-owned airline that is based in Ireland for the purpose of evading Norway's labor and tax laws, and that will hire crews under Asian contracts, is in violation of these explicit labor protections, and should be denied entry into our marketplace," Wytkind said. (NAI has pledged that only employees with U.S. or European contracts will work on transatlantic flights.)

"Given the disgust with our trade policies expressed loudly by American voters on November 8, it is especially galling that the administration has ignored the wants of the American people in favor of a rogue, foreign airline," Wytkind added.

The international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, Sara Nelson, said DOT's order "overrides carefully negotiated worker rights and designs a new playbook that rolls out the red carpet for foreign corporation by trampling workers' rights." The flight attendants' union believes that the U.S. government has now placed "a rubber stamp of approval on the 'flag of convenience model' that destroyed over a hundred thousand U.S. shipping jobs," Nelson said.

Tim Canoll, the president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, said his union wouldn't have backed the air transport agreement between the United States and European Union if it had known that DOT would permit an airline like NAI to fly to U.S. cities. Canoll expressed hope for changes during the Trump administration: "We are pleased with U.S. President-Elect Donald J. Trump's stand on trade, and we look forward to working with the next administration to safeguard U.S. jobs," he said.

... AS DOES HOUSE T&I'S RANKING MEMBER: Rep. Peter DeFazio, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's top Democrat, said the approval "has guaranteed a race to the bottom in our transatlantic aviation market." The Oregon Democrat called it a "short-sighted decision" that will hurt jobs. DeFazio sponsored legislation that would have blocked DOT's approval of NAI's application. The bill earned the support of 175 co-sponsors, including nearly 50 Republicans. Reps. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) and Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), also members of the T&I Committee, joined DeFazio on Friday in denouncing the decision.

... WHILE THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY PRAISES IT:

Roger Dow, the U.S. Travel Association's president and CEO, said the decision would bring more jobs to the United States. "NAI is flying and will buy more America-made planes, their passengers will spend money in American businesses, and American travelers will have more and cheaper options when they fly," Dow said. He added that the approval is "even good for U.S. airlines because it broadens the market for domestic connector flights."

— Travelers "are desperate for more flight options," argued Steve Shur, the Travel Technology Association's president. "Any air carrier offering new and expanded service between the U.S. and Europe is a win for consumers and the air travel marketplace overall," Shur said.

RYAN: INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT 'SHOULD BE DECIDED BY THE MARKETPLACE': House Speaker Paul Ryan briefly discussed infrastructure with Scott Pelley for an episode of "60 Minutes" that aired Sunday. Pelley asked: "Mr. Trump promised a $1 trillion infrastructure program. What are you going to build, and how are you going to pay for it?" Ryan responded: "Well, I think, that should be decided by the marketplace. That should be decided by the needs in the particular states and communities as to what is built or rebuilt. And it's going to be one of our high priorities that we're we are going to be addressing this year." See the full "60 Minutes" interview here.

SITTING, WAITING, WISHING: House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul said he's still waiting to hear whether Trump wants him for DHS secretary. McCaul told our Tanya Snyder on Friday that he wasn't certain of the president-elect's timeline but he's "sure in the near future they'll be making a decision." Trump said in a Fox News interview aired Friday that "almost all" of his remaining Cabinet nominees will be announced this week. McCaul has recently appeared to shift his focus to legislative work, raising questions about whether he still has a shot at the DHS position.

THIS WEEK:

Tuesday — AASHTO and AAPA release a report on the "state of freight" one year after the enactment of the FAST Act. FMCSA's Post-Accident Reporting Advisory Committee begins a two-day meeting. NTSB holds a meeting to discuss an accident report on the 2014 crash of two Union Pacific trains. Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the chairman of the House Transportation Highways and Transit Subcommittee, leads a roundtable on driverless cars. The House E&C Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee holds a hearing on the Volkswagen settlement. Public Knowledge hosts an event on connected cars and cybersecurity.

Wednesday — The Intelligent Transportation Systems Program Advisory Committee holds a meeting. House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul gives his annual "State of Homeland Security Address." The Senate Commerce Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security Subcommittee holds a hearing on infrastructure security.

Thursday — The International Rail Forum for North America begins a two-day meeting. The Atlantic hosts a summit on transportation and infrastructure. The National Advisory Committee on Travel and Tourism Infrastructure begins its first meeting, which continues on Friday.

Friday — NTSB holds an investigative hearing about the deadly crash of a hot air balloon in Texas in July.

** A message from the U.S. Travel Association: To make America competitive again, we need to be connected, to each other and the world. Investment in our country's infrastructure is an investment in connectivity, which is vital for our people, our economy, and our place on the global stage. Learn more: http://bit.ly/1QLPK5L **

I'LL HAVE THE USUAL: Members of the House Oversight Committee hauled Metro and FTA officials to the Hill on Friday one last time before the 114th Congress shuts off the lights, and it was a lot of the same old song and dance. Members weren't happy about the contents of transcripts made public last week by NTSB showing that Metro track inspectors knew for nearly a year and a half that several rail ties near East Falls Church were defective — and may have fudged reports about the area of track where a train derailed in July (WAMU's Martin Di Caro first reported on the shoddy recordkeeping in October). But Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld made it clear to lawmakers that the agency turned over that information to NTSB and since then has worked to address the issues he found, launching a criminal investigation that's still open and hiring consultants to train inspectors.

But with a twist: Under intense questioning from Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), FTA Executive Director Matthew Welbes said his agency shares some responsibility for the summertime derailment, as our Lauren Gardner reported for Pros. Welbes initially said the incident wouldn't have occurred had WMATA inspectors followed their own standards — which he says are strict on paper — and had the system boasted a stronger safety culture, but he later acknowledged FTA's "lack of authority has been a contributor." FTA officials have shadowed Metro employees and issued scores of inspection reports and audits of their operations, but insist WMATA itself is charged with ensuring the system's safe operation on a daily basis. Still, some have raised questions about whether the federal oversight takeover has yielded significant results.

Not-drunk history: NTSB has repeatedly urged DOT to seek a change in WMATA safety oversight authority from FTA to FRA. But that would require congressional action, and Secretary Anthony Foxx has made it clear he doesn't think it's necessary (and that it would take too long to get, anyway). Lawmakers also don't seem eager to pursue that change on their own — and they even marginally boosted FTA's safety powers in the 2015 surface transportation bill.

"If we followed Congressman Connolly's plan to wait until Congress passed legislation to switch safety oversight agencies we would be putting WMATA riders and workers in further danger," DOT spokeswoman Namrata Kolachalam said after the hearing. "We used the tools that were available to us to act quickly in the face of serious safety problems."

WHITHER WRDA? House leaders are holding a spot for the water resources package on the floor this week, but whether there'll be an actual deal to take up remains to be seen. Lobbyists think language could be available by late morning, but after repeated promises last week that a deal was "imminent," no one is holding their breath.

Tweet storm's a-comin': Among the remaining sticking points is whether to include a provision requiring that federally funded drinking water projects use steel and iron produced in the U.S., as Annie Snider reported Friday. It's a fight that could offer an early signal of how Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, a free trade evangelist, will manage their differences. And you'd better believe Democrats are going to rub salt in that wound: Later this morning, Democrats are planning to take to Twitter in a campaign aimed at getting Trump to weigh in publicly in favor of the so-called Buy America provision, a senior Senate Democratic aide tells our friends at Morning Energy.

FRA PUTS CAMERAS, FATIGUE IN FOCUS: The FRA is issuing a safety advisory pushing commuter railroads to equip their trains with both outward- and inward-facing cameras. As our Tanya Snyder reported for Pros: "The NTSB has said inward-facing locomotive recorders can provide valuable information to help determine crash causes. The lack of these cameras have been at issue in several recent high-profile derailments whose causes remain murky." The agency's advisory comes after the deadly Sept. 29 crash of a commuter train at New Jersey Transit's Hoboken terminal. In that case, the engineer had undiagnosed sleep apnea. The new advisory reiterates previous recommendations on reporting and screening for sleep disorders.

STATES VOICE CONCERNS ABOUT SELF-DRIVING CAR GUIDANCE: Some states want DOT to get more specific when its comes to guidance on driverless cars. As our Tanya Snyder reports: "The biggest concern, shared by states and automakers alike, is that while NHTSA's 15-point vehicle safety assessment isn't mandatory, it recommends that states require it for those seeking permits to test or deploy vehicles. That leaves states in the position of approving or denying vehicle testing permits based on a safety assessment that they may be ill-equipped to evaluate." Pros can check out Tanya's full story here.

IN YOUR EXPERT OPINION: Mary Barra, the chairwoman and CEO of General Motors, and Jim McNerney, the former chairman, president and CEO of Boeing, were named to a group that will advise Trump on the effects of public policy on the private sector. The advisory group plans to meet with Trump "frequently" according to a statement from the transition team, and will discuss "how government policy impacts economic growth, job creation, and productivity." The group's first meeting is slated for February.

ICYMI: The Ways and Means Committee's next ranking member is Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), Pro Tax's Bernie Becker reported. Neal will take the place of Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.). Pros can read more about Neal's bid for the position here.

SHIFTING GEARS: Ned Walker will return as Delta's chief communications officer in January. Walker retired as CCO in 2014 and was serving as a senior adviser. He'll replace Kevin Shinkle, who's leaving the company.

CONGRATS: Cathy Keefe, media relations manager at the U.S. Travel Association, married Chris Reynolds of the Department of State over the weekend, per POLITICO Playbook.

THE AUTOBAHN:

— "Four of world's biggest cities to ban diesel cars from their centres." The Guardian.

— "Ford willing to work with Trump if policies right: CEO." Bloomberg.

— "As transit fares soar, NYC advocates push for discounts." The Associated Press.

— "Uber threatens to pull out of Maryland if state requires fingerprint-based background checks." The Washington Post.

— "Bolivia minister: Country could face US aviation downgrade." The Associated Press.

— "Apple signals interest in self-driving software." The Wall Street Journal.

— "BMW seeks to be 'coolest' ride-hailing firm with autonomous car." Reuters.

— "Cake, champagne greet passengers on first Beijing-Las Vegas nonstop flight." The Las Vegas Review-Journal.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 4 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 298 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,398 days.

THE DAY AHEAD:

10 a.m. — Brookings' Center on Regulation and Markets holds an event on autonomous vehicles and ride-hailing and ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) delivers keynote remarks. The Brookings Institution. Falk Auditorium. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW.

12 p.m. — The Property Casualty Insurers Association of American holds a briefing on driverless cars and highway safety. Panelists include Rob Molloy, director of the Office of Highway Safety for NTSB. Rayburn 2322.

1 p.m. — TSA holds a meeting of the Aviation Security Advisory Committee. 601 12th St. South. Arlington, Va.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at transpocalendar@politicopro.com.

** A message from the U.S. Travel Association: To make America competitive again, we need to be connected, to each other and the world. America has zero airports ranked in the top 25 globally, and that's more than just an embarrassment—it's a missed opportunity. Travel is critical to our country's trade balance, since it accounts for ten percent of all exports, and supports one in nine American jobs. If we're not connected through modern airports, America loses out. Investment in our country's infrastructure is an investment in connectivity, which is vital for our people, our economy, and our place on the global stage. Learn more: http://bit.ly/1QLPK5L **

To view online:
https://www.politicopro.com/tipsheets/morning-transportation/2016/12/transpo-labor-groups-attack-nai-decision-020401

Stories from POLITICO Pro

McCaul: No word yet from Team Trump on DHS secretary pick Back

By Tanya Snyder | 12/02/2016 12:25 PM EDT

Rep. Michael McCaul is apparently still waiting to find out whether he'll be tapped to lead the DHS.

McCaul, the House Homeland Security chairman, told POLITICO today that he hadn't heard from President-elect Donald Trump's team yet and didn't know much about timing, "but I'm sure in the near future they'll be making a decision."

Earlier today, Trump's team announced that they planned to wrap up the remainder of their Cabinet picks next week.

McCaul has been at the top of the rumored short list for DHS chief, though his turn in recent days back to legislative work has raised questions about whether he's still in the running.

Back

FTA official admits partial fault for summer WMATA derailment Back

By Lauren Gardner | 12/02/2016 12:09 PM EDT

An FTA official admitted Friday that the agency is partially at fault for a summertime Metrorail train derailment near the East Falls Church station in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

Testifying at a House Oversight Committee hearing on WMATA safety oversight, FTA Executive Director Matthew Welbes initially said the incident wouldn't have happened if WMATA's inspectors had followed their own standards for track maintenance and examinations, which are stricter on so-called wide gauge problems than FRA's.

The NTSB has repeatedly urged DOT to ask Congress to shift safety oversight responsibilities from FTA to FRA, but Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has refused.

"The problem here is that the culture overcomes the rulebook," Welbes said, adding that the July derailment near the East Falls Church station was "the systematic fault of all the people involved."

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who chairs an Oversight subcommittee, pressed Welbes to take partial responsibility for the situation given FTA's role overseeing Metrorail's safety. FTA has assumed this role until a tri-region panel can be formed to take the reins.

FTA's "lack of authority has been a contributor, yes," Welbes said.

Welbes had already acknowledged that FTA has the authority to write regulations that would match an FRA requirement to fix tracks that have separated beyond a safe width. NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart cited that power as one reason why the board supports putting safety oversight of Metrorail under FRA, which also has the ability — unlike FTA — to issue fines.

"You just told me you had the authority. You can't have it both ways," Meadows said. "Are you partially at fault?"

"Sure, sir," Welbes said.

FTA can withhold federal funding from transit properties it deems unsafe, a prospect WMATA may face since Maryland and Virginia won't meet a Feb. 9 deadline to establish a safety oversight body that would assume control from FTA. But that threat will ultimately be up to the Trump administration to enforce.

Congress first gave FTA safety oversight powers in 2012, but prior to that the agency acted essentially as a grant-maker for local transit systems. But the agency is largely tasked with ensuring those systems follow safety standards they already have in place.

NTSB issued a report Thursday confirming that Metro employees knew about deteriorating rail ties near the East Falls Church station for over a year before the incident.

The independent agency previously disclosed that WMATA inspectors weren't examining crossover tracks as frequently as their own standards mandate before the derailment.

Back

WRDA 'Buy America' fight could be stress test for GOP on Trump infrastructure plan Back

By Annie Snider | 12/02/2016 03:48 PM EDT

A fight in Congress over whether to include a "Buy America" provision in a year-end water infrastructure package could be a stress test for whether House Republican leaders will go along with President-elect Donald Trump's plan to try to revitalize U.S. manufacturing through infrastructure investment.

As House and Senate negotiators scramble to reach a deal on a final Water Resources Development Act, a battle has broken out over whether to require that federally backed drinking water projects be constructed with U.S. steel and iron. Already, U.S. transportation projects receiving federal funding must use American-made materials, and a 2014 measure included that mandate for sewer projects.

But free trade advocates, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, have opposed such provisions.

"It's a provision that was in the Senate bill but not the House bill and the committees are still working out the differences," a senior GOP aide said by email.

Although staffers say the Trump team has not weighed in on the provision's inclusion in the water measure, the result could foreshadow where conservatives will stand on the major infrastructure package Trump has said he wants to tackle early on in his presidency. Just Thursday night in Cincinnati, on the first stop of his "Thank You Tour," Trump vowed that his infrastructure plan would follow two simple rules: "Buy American and hire American. We're going to do it ourselves."

The U.S. steel market has been flooded by cheap, subsidized imports in recent years, prompting American companies to shed thousands of workers across the Rust Belt. Those workers helped carry Trump to victory in the key states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. Now moderate Democrats in many of those same state are facing a fight for their political lives in 2018 reelection battles.

Industry advocates argue that the "Buy America" requirements are one of the few things keeping the most labor- and capital-intensive parts of the steel-making process in the U.S.

"Buy America ensures tax dollars are reinvested in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania rather than Russia and China," Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, said by email. "As we rebuild water systems, they should be made by American workers, just as Donald Trump said [Thursday] night. I know a majority in Congress agrees, and this policy would win hands-down if a vote were taken."

But opponents of the "Buy America" language say it creates an unfair playing field among American companies.

"We're all for protecting domestic jobs," said Natasha Hammond, a Squire Patton Boggs lobbyist for two companies that import foreign-produced steel slabs for final processing in the U.S. But she argued that the current language "picks winners and losers in the domestic market and it would directly affect domestic jobs."

One of Hammond's clients is NLMK Pennsylvania, an arm of a major Russian steel producer that also has a steel mill in Vice President-Elect Mike Pence's home state of Indiana.

As House and Senate negotiators race the clock to reach a deal on the water infrastructure measure before Congress must turn to a spending bill next week, the primary hurdle has been reaching an agreement on aid to help Flint, Mich., recover from its lead contamination crisis. But Rust Belt Democrats are pressing their case with a late push to include the "Buy America" provision in a final package.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat up for reelection in 2018 in an increasingly red state, led a letter sent Friday afternoon telling Republican and Democratic leaders in both chambers that "the American people spoke clearly in this past election that they want leaders who fight for the working class and who advance policies that create more jobs and grow the U.S. manufacturing sector."

Twenty-three Democrats and Ohio Republican Rob Portman joined Brown on the letter, including Michigan's two Democratic senators, Democratic Whip Dick Durbin and former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Still, it is unclear whether the issue is one that Democratic leaders would consider holding up the bill over, especially if it includes the Flint aid package.

If the language is omitted from a final deal, as those close to the negotiations say it currently is, it will be the first major infrastructure measure to pass without the "Buy America" requirement in recent years. When the issue has come up on appropriations measures, it has received bipartisan support.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), whose committee has jurisdiction over the drinking water program, told POLITICO he has "always been a 'Buy America' guy," despite the fact the language was not included in his portion of the House bill.

Back

FRA issues interim guidance on cameras and fatigue Back

By Tanya Snyder | 12/02/2016 11:12 AM EDT

The FRA has issued interim guidance encouraging intercity and commuter railroads to install inward- and outward-facing cameras on trains to help monitor crewmember actions.

The guidance encourages all intercity and commuter railroads to adopt the new standards, though they haven't yet issued formal regulations. The NTSB has said inward-facing locomotive recorders can provide valuable information to help determine crash causes. The lack of these cameras have been at issue in several recent high-profile derailments whose causes remain murky.

While the cameras exist to "ensure" crewmember compliance with safety standards, the FRA notes, "the statute prohibits railroads from using image recordings to retaliate against their employees."

The guidance comes just two months after a New Jersey Transit train derailed in Hoboken, N.J., killing one and injuring 111. The engineer in that crash had undiagnosed sleep apnea.

Today's guidance also reiterates previously-issued FRA recommendations on raising awareness about and reporting sleep disorders, including shift work sleep disorder, and to screen for them as part of routine medical examinations.

The guidance also included recommendations to railroads on improving safety training and data evaluation, especially on train speeds, and improving communications to ensure that trains stop before the stub end of the track.

Back

Some states chafe against 'flexible' driverless car guidance Back

By Tanya Snyder | 12/02/2016 03:36 PM EDT

DOT is under increasing pressure from states to add specificity and evaluation criteria to its guidance on driverless cars, which the agency had taken great pains to leave as flexible as possible so it can evolve alongside the technology.

Some states — such as California, Michigan, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania — are eagerly jumping into the brave new world of driverless cars with both feet. But in comments filed on NHTSA's recent guidance on driverless cars, other states aren't quite so eager to take on what they say are hard decisions they're not prepared to make.

The biggest concern, shared by states and automakers alike, is that while NHTSA's 15-point vehicle safety assessment isn't mandatory, it recommends that states require it for those seeking permits to test or deploy vehicles. That leaves states in the position of approving or denying vehicle testing permits based on a safety assessment that they may be ill-equipped to evaluate.

NHTSA insists that vehicle safety remains a federal responsibility and that nothing in the guidance suggests otherwise.

"Automobiles have never been regulated by a premarket approval system," said NHTSA spokesman Bryan Thomas. He said the agency is collecting "much more information on the front end" than they do with traditional vehicles, but that it's not the responsibility of the agency — or the state — to independently certify the safety of each vehicle model.

Many states, though, question why, if automakers are supplying NHTSA with answers to a safety checklist it designed, the agency won't also set minimum criteria for compliance. Some states don't want to be the ones to determine the adequacy of an automaker's responses.

That ambiguity "presents some difficulty for states that usually look to the federal government for the establishment of motor vehicle safety standards," said the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in their comments.

"Many state DOTs have commented to AASHTO staff that they do not have the staff, facilities or expertise to make informed determinations of safety in areas such as vehicle cybersecurity or AV system performance," AASHTO wrote.

If a state DOT grants a permit on the basis of a safety assessment that it's not equipped to evaluate, some fear a liability backlash.

Minnesota DOT's comments suggest that having to "evaluate the technical adequacy" of an applicant's safety assessment "would seem counter to the approach of having NHTSA perform" the function of ensuring vehicle safety — and made it clear that it wants NHTSA to do just that.

AASHTO wants NHSTA to establish "minimum safety criteria" for the 15 points, and consider mandating third-party certification of safety by entities "with the expertise to make such determinations."

But automakers are intent on avoiding a requirement for pre-market safety certification, either by a third party or by NHTSA itself.

The safety assessment isn't the only area where states are asking for more federal guidance. Driverless cars make other responsibilities that have historically rested with the state suddenly seem new and overwhelming.

This includes questions such as how to handle driver training when drivers aren't required, or if drivers would only required to be able to take over in an emergency.

Insurance and liability questions, as well as licensing, also become more complicated. Minnesota would like federal guidance on those issues too, to ensure "uniformity across borders." Connecticut's DOT wants "national consistent guidance" on the ethical considerations vehicle manufacturers will have to make in case of an unavoidable crash, for example.

States are excited about using data collection from autonomous vehicles as a way to evaluate hazardous road conditions, among other things, but worry that possessing that data would make it subject to government records requests, which create administrative burdens.

Oregon also outlined concerns that once autonomous vehicles move out of the testing phase, "the large-scale commercial deployment of AVs will necessitate a more rigorous framework than voluntary guidance to ensure that AVs meet reasonable safety standards."

States are also concerned about the additional administrative and cost-burdens necessary to fulfill the new tasks they're expected to perform.

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Richard Neal chosen as Ways and Means top Democrat Back

By Bernie Becker | 12/02/2016 12:35 PM EDT

Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) was officially chosen today as the next top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, according to a person with knowledge of the proceedings.

Neal, who will replace Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), drew the backing of both the Democratic steering committee and the unanimous support of the full caucus.

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who has more seniority on the committee, was also nominated for the position at the steering committee, according to the person with knowledge. But after addressing his colleagues, Lewis withdrew and endorsed Neal, receiving a standing ovation in the process.

Neal, known for working across the aisle at Ways and Means, climbs to the top spot at a tricky time for Democrats, who will have to figure out how much to work with Republicans on tax reform next year and battle GOP efforts to gut Obamacare and potentially overhaul Medicare.

The Massachusetts Democrat pitched himself to colleagues as having the policy expertise for the position, but also the ability to reach the white working class voters and middle-class voters who defected from Democrats earlier this month.

It also caps an interesting week for Neal, who tried to dethrone Levin as top Democrat on the committee in 2010. Neal said Tuesday that he had no advance knowledge that Levin wouldn't seek another term as ranking member.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) also briefly sought the ranking member slot, with Levin's support, before being tapped to be California's attorney general.

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