Infrastructure in the News: November 15, 2012
BAF IN THE NEWS:
NCB New York: President Obama to Visit Storm-Damaged Staten Island
President Barack Obama is set to visit storm-ravaged Staten Island Thursday, where he will view recovery efforts and meet with affected families, local officials and first responders who have been dealing with Sandy's destruction.
Washington Post: NTSB: Don’t sacrifice safety in deficit debate
In a rare move for an agency better known for investigating crashes, the National Transportation Safety Board warned lawmakers Tuesday not to sacrifice public safety as they seek to cut government spending.
The Hill: NTSB recommends mandating accident avoidance technology for autos
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Wednesday called for automakers to make features that could help avoid car crashes standard on all their vehicles.
Marketplace: Save the earth, drive your car
Mass transit in the Northeast was hit hard by Sandy. New Yorkers had to do without the subway, for example, but now the transit system has mostly recovered. It’s a perfect time to be thankful for the extensive network of public transportation that exists in the city. In fact, it means that New Yorkers have one of the smallest per-capita carbon footprints in the U.S.
Climate Progress: Questions For President Obama: How Will You Address ‘The Destructive Power Of A Warming Planet’?
President Obama is set to do his first post-election press conference this afternoon. This is the perfect chance to remind him of what he said on election night:
Atlantic Cities: What Cities Stand to Lose From the Fiscal Cliff
If there's one thing Republicans and Democrats agree on about the fiscal cliff, it's that going over it would be a huge mistake for the country. Unfortunately that's the only thing they seem to agree on, which leaves them at least one thing shy of actually avoiding disaster on January 2. Congressional leaders will begin discussions with the White House tomorrow, but with just a few weeks left until the deadline, the situation has become urgent.
Vermont Public Radio: As FEMA's Sandy Cleanup Continues, Questions Arise About Long-Term Help
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo meets Nov. 10 with residents of the Far Rockaways section of Queens, which was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Cuomo is seeking $30 billion in federal assistance to help rebuild his state at a time when Congress is already consumed with reducing the deficit.
Political leaders from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast have not been shy about their intent to seek as much federal funding as possible for their storm-struck states. Damages and lost economic activity as a result of Hurricane Sandy have been estimated as high as $50 billion.
Switchboard: Housing near transit creates thriving communities
"A city is like a pizza, and a neighborhood is like a slice of pizza. Just as a slice of pizza should contain all the ingredients of the pizza, each neighborhood should contain all the things we enjoy and value about the city: homes, coffee... shops, ball fields, churches, grocery stores, and so on. The suburban experiment that was so influential in the 20th century involved dividing up the functions of the city into different zones: housing, shopping, office, recreation. This works about as well as eating the elements of your pizza in different courses: you're still getting the same nutritional value, but you've lost the joy of your pizza." -- Eric Jacobsen, Why Suburbia is Affecting Your Spiritual Life
Bloomberg: Carbon Fee From Obama Seen Viable With Backing From Exxon
Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) is part of a growing coalition backing a carbon tax as an alternative to costly regulation, giving newfound prominence to an idea once anathema in Washington.
Politico Pro: Obama clear on climate — but not on EU-ETS bill
By Burgess Everett and Adam Snider
President Barack Obama on Wednesday laid out an inspection of the globe’s changing temperatures as an issue that he plans to pursue both in the short-term and during the next four years.
He needn’t wait long: His first post-election decision on climate change is about to hit his desk. And lawmakers and environmentalists are lobbying the president hard on whether or not to sign a carefully negotiated bill that exempts U.S. airlines from the European Union’s emissions trading scheme.
The legislation passed the Senate by unanimous consent and the House by voice vote, shielding lawmakers from a potentially tough vote. A roll call would have put lawmakers on record as either opposing the wishes of the U.S. airline industry or ignoring environmentalists’ pleas to not send a message that opposes efforts to cut down on carbon emissions.
Obama will not be so lucky: His signature — or lack of it — will be judged by green groups as his administration’s first climate-change test.
An administration spokeswoman told POLITICO that the White House is “committed” to reducing airplane carbon emissions through the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is attempting to hammer out a global solution to what the United States and other nations view as unilateral action by the EU. The European Commission decided to delay implementation of the scheme while the ICAO work takes place; the spokeswoman said that move “pleased” the administration.
“We oppose the application of the EU Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS) to non-EU air carriers on policy and legal grounds. It is the wrong way to achieve the right objective,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden, declining to indicate which way the president is leaning. “As soon as Congress sends the legislation to the White House, we will review it.”
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a pioneer of the Senate bill that cleared the House on Tuesday, said he’s worried environmental and other groups are pressing for a White House veto, which Congress potentially could override given the strong support the bill has garnered in recent months.
“He’s going to get a lot of pressure from his left flank not to sign it in light of the EU’s announcement, but I still think it’s really important for our country to be on record. And the best way to do that is to have legislation out there that addresses this if in fact the EU decides after they give this cooling off period, or whatever they’re going to call it, if they try to go back and reinstate it,” Thune told a crowd of reporters Wednesday after appearing at a press conference to announce the Senate Republican leadership team.
Thune said he’d heard “encouraging signs” that the bill will be signed — but not from the White House. “People who think that he may sign it, but I don’t know. It’s all speculation until he makes that decision,” he said. Asked if he would personally lobby for sign-off, Thune deferred with a “we’ll see.”
He has been joined in calling for the president’s signature by co-sponsors Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). The House’s debate on Tuesday was between two transportation leaders who both support the bill, Reps. John Mica (R-Fla.) and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.).
Green groups are calling for the president to stand up to airline industry and support cutting emissions. Glenn Hurowitz, a fellow at the Center for International Policy, warned that if the president signs the bill he “will not only be failing to take sufficient action to address climate change, but actively going out of his way to stop another country from doing so — a pretty extreme act at the worst possible time.”
“For President Obama to come in and tell them and other Sandy victims that he cares more about the airline lobby than their well-being and the global climate would be an epic disappointment,” Hurowitz wrote. On Tuesday, the World Wildlife Fund called on the president to veto the bill as well.
But aviation and business groups don’t see it the same way. Alex Herrgott, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s director of transportation policy, wrote in a Tuesday blog post that it’s not fair for the EU to tax an entire airplane trip when in some cases only a small portion of the voyage is in its airspace.
Herrgott praised the EU decision to put off the plan for a year. “Yet, U.S. civil aviation still isn’t safe, because the EU’s announcement yesterday is simply a proposal and they have made it clear that they are only delaying enforcement until October 2013,” he wrote.
Obama isn't tipping his hand, though he called himself a “firm believer” in climate change’s existence and humans’ impact on the earth.
“We haven’t done as much as we need to,” Obama said, later adding on the subject: “You can expect you’ll hear more from me.”
Politico Pro: NTSB’s Hersman takes stage to detail ‘most-wanted’ list
By Jessica Meyers
Deborah Hersman has not only unveiled a “most-wanted” list, she’s landed on one.
Insiders have touted the National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman as a possible candidate to replace Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. And if that’s the case, the agency’s own most-wanted list can only help.
Hersman announced the annual tally of safety concerns Wednesday, highlighting prominent administration themes of distracted driving, aviation safety and bus operations.
The agency’s five board members determine the list, based largely on previous investigations and the potential for change. But it does offer a platform this year to reinforce the new transportation law, highlight agency efforts and suggest upcoming priorities.
“It’s not just what is on the list but what is not on the list and what’s been accomplished,” Hersman told POLITICO.
Fatigue disappeared from the list this year due to Department of Transportation rules that address pilot and truck driver work hours. Motor coach requirements in the transportation law helped do away with an item on bus-occupant safety. Grant programs in the same bill helped shift the list focus from teen driver safety to distracted driving. Additional measures in the legislation kept the board from adding a rail transit safety item.
Motorcycle safety and pilot professionalism also fell off the top ten, although members say the issues remain priorities.
“There are times when you know you are going to be able to make a difference and other times when you have to retrench … and say we’ve pushed hard on these issues for a little while, what would the next iteration look like?” Hersman said.
That includes a desire to “preserve the integrity” of — maintain or repair — transportation infrastructure, such as bridges. It also encompasses a mandate for accident-avoidance technologies like adaptive cruise control, improvements in ground-level airport operations and a push for both pipeline and fire safety measures. Members began these annual warnings a little more than a decade ago. Drunk driving remains a perennial item.
The implementation of positive train control, rail safety technology whose cost and effectiveness have spurred controversy, also appears on the list.
“Each item is kind of considered on its own merits on its own time,” Hersman said, citing the deadly 2008 train-on-train collision in California as grounds for the technology.
Industry groups jumped on the defensive. The Association of American Railroads emphasized efforts to use PTC, but also the challenges in doing so.
“The mandate and implementation of PTC is an unprecedented undertaking and, despite nearly a decade of research and development, still faces significant hurdles to deployment,” AAR President Edward Hamberger said in a statement. The group noted that the freight industry is on pace for its safest year yet.
Amalgamated Transit Union president Larry Hanley said the list “ignored the ‘elephant in the room,’” which he considers the exemption of intercity bus drivers from labor provisions that would allow them more rest.
“Federal agencies, bus companies, and Members of Congress are partners in a conspiracy of silence about the real cause of driver fatigue,” Hanley said in a statement, “which is rooted in working conditions, wage rates, the absence of fair-labor standards for intercity bus drivers.”
Both the Airports Council International-North America and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association emphasized their increased collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration. AOPA pointed to new pilot education programs and passenger safety briefings.
And the American Trucking Association used the list to promote hair testing for employee drug use and extending cellphone bans while driving.
The NTSB only offers recommendations, but those ideas often serve as the basis for legislation or federal rules.
Hersman’s influence, at least in the near future, stops there.
“I am really focused on my job here as chairman,” she said in an interview, “and that is what I want to pay attention to right now.”
Politico Pro: FAA’s Huerta still hanging on DeMint’s hold
By Burgess Everett
Sen. Jim DeMint’s hold ensured that the nomination of Michael Huerta for FAA administrator would be delayed until after the election — and the South Carolina lawmaker hasn’t yet loosened his grip.
DeMint’s office confirmed Wednesday that nothing has changed on the hold following the reelection of President Barack Obama, declining to answer how the presumed future ranking member of the Commerce Committee will proceed. The Republican lawmaker told POLITICO on Tuesday that he hadn’t decided if he would continue to stymie the Obama administration’s nominee to lead the massive FAA.
Huerta has served as the FAA’s acting administrator for nearly a year following former Administrator Randy Babbitt’s arrest for drunken driving.
The aviation sector is nearly unanimous in its support for Huerta’s confirmation; he was nominated in May for a five-year term and has already been confirmed in the capacity of FAA’s deputy administrator.
Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said Tuesday that he hasn’t talked with DeMint about the situation and was unsure how things would play out. DeMint said in August that he would likely allow the nomination to proceed should Obama secure a second term. More than a week after the election, there’s been no movement.
Some of that is just the partisan politics of the election unwinding in the upper chamber. Huerta isn’t the only person to see a path to a prominent administration job stalled.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told POLITICO the holdup on Huerta — who Blunt said has “seemed to have conducted himself well as the acting administrator” — could loosen after Thanksgiving as staffers ready the chamber for the lame duck to “get as much work done as can be done.”
“I haven’t heard anybody talk about moving a lot of nominees,” said Blunt, a member of the GOP Senate leadership team and the Commerce Committee. But “there’s a number of nominees that I think as the president’s been reelected” will cause lawmakers to reassess their positions, he said.
The political leaders of the country are preparing to confront the mandatory cuts and tax hikes of the “fiscal cliff” in the coming days, issues more pressing than nominees.
A Senate leadership aide said it isn’t unheard of to move a package of uncontroversial nominees at the end of a congressional session, provided all of them can achieve unanimous consent.
But with DeMint’s hold — and possibly holds from other Republicans — still shackling Huerta, it’s unclear whether Huerta would be in that mix. A standalone vote on his nomination seems unlikely given the limited floor time available in the Senate.
"We have good nominees that deserve a vote and it’s our hope we can do that before the end of the year,” said Vince Morris, a spokesman for Rockefeller.
Any sort of mass confirmation of nominees might depend on where things stand politically at session’s end between Democrats and Republicans as well as Capitol Hill and the White House.
“There does seem to be some interest in doing some nominees,” said a Senate GOP aide. “It depends on how warm and fuzzy things are on the fiscal cliff.”
Swift movement is needed to give the FAA “stability, especially with regard to major policy implementations and rulemakings, most notably NextGen,” an aviation lobbyist said. Huerta has also been operating without a deputy, increasing his workload in an agency trying to update its outmoded navigation system in a hurry to reduce gridlock and wasted fuel.
There’s another time wrinkle: When the new Congress convenes in January, all stalled nominees must again be nominated by the White House. That means Huerta would again have to pass a Commerce Committee vote to even garner floor consideration — and DeMint would play a more prominent role in that process once he succeeds Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas as the top Republican on the committee.
But even if he can’t secure confirmation before 2013, most expect Huerta to remain Obama’s pick for the job.
“As far as I know, Huerta is the only game in town,” the lobbyist said.
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Adam Snider and Burgess Everett
Featuring Jessica Meyers and Kathryn A. Wolfe
November 15, 2012
WAITING ON SOME PARCHMENT: During President Barack Obama’s first big media availability in months he was asked about a carbon tax, leading the president to give an extended answer on climate change and how he will approach the issue during his second term. He needn’t wait long to make a statement: A controversial message bill opposed by environmentalists that would allow the DOT to exempt U.S. airlines from the European Union’s emissions trading scheme is awaiting his signature — or his veto. A White House spokesperson said the administration is “committed” to reducing airplane carbon emissions through the International Civil Aviation Organization but wouldn’t indicate which way Obama is leaning on the bill.
Pulled in two directions: “It is the wrong way to achieve the right objective,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said of the EU’s approach. “As soon as Congress sends the legislation to the White House, we will review it.” John Thune, who wrote the bill, is worried that green groups will sway Obama toward a veto. “He’s going to get a lot of pressure from his left flank not to sign it in light of the EU’s announcement, but I still think it’s really important for our country to be on record,” Thune said. “It’s all speculation until he makes that decision.” Asked if he would personally lobby for sign-off, Thune deferred with a “we’ll see.” The World Wildlife Fund and other environmental groups have called on Obama to veto the bill. Pros know where to go for our story: http://politico.pro/SN7yQW
MOST WANTED: This one isn’t about criminals. NTSB put out its annual “most wanted” list of safety concerns on Wednesday, highlighting prominent administration themes of distracted driving, aviation safety and bus operations. The agency’s five board members determine the list, based largely on previous investigations and the potential for change. But it does offer a platform this year to reinforce the new transportation law, highlight agency efforts and suggest upcoming priorities. “It’s not just what is on the list but what is not on the list and what’s been accomplished,” NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman told Jessica. Fatigue disappeared from the list this year thanks to DOT rules that address pilot and truck driver work hours. Motor coach requirements in the transportation law helped do away with an item on bus occupant safety. Grant programs in the same bill helped shift the list focus from teen driver safety to distracted driving. Additional measures in the legislation kept the board from adding a rail transit safety item.
NTSB pride: Hersman’s name has been floating around for a while in the talk about who could replace Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood if he steps down, but she was mum and talked about her current job when Jessica asked her in an interview. “I think I have the best job in Washington right now,” she said, but wouldn't expand on how she'd feel about a new, well-placed position. “I always respect the president and any request they have of me, but I am very happy to be chair of NTSB.” Jessica has it all in her Pro story: http://politico.pro/QHc9br
CLOCK TICKS ON FAA NOMINEE: There are just a few weeks left to deal with Michael Huerta’s nomination to lead the FAA, and Jim DeMint’s hold — and possibly others — has yet to be removed. DeMint had said he planned to remove the hold after the election, but there are so many issues Congress has to deal with before the year’s end that Huerta’s progress is still blocked. If an agreement can be reached on Huerta, it’s entirely possible that his confirmation vote could be moved in a package of stalled nominees. Sen. Roy Blunt told MT that he expects staff to work overtime to set up a furious month of work following the Thanksgiving holiday, and part of that could include removing GOP holds put in place ahead of the election that would have allowed Mitt Romney to choose his own nominees had he won. Moving such a package might be precipitated by the overall mood in Washington on the even bigger issues, or as one source put it to us “it depends on how warm and fuzzy things are on the fiscal cliff.” But if Huerta isn’t approved by January, Obama will have to not only submit his nomination again but Huerta would have to again pass through the Senate Commerce Committee, whose top Republican is expected to be … DeMint. Burgess has got your back, Pros: http://politico.pro/TKQY5m
WAIVER WIRE: Today marks when T&I Chair John Mica is expected to learn his fate from Speaker John Boehner in his bid to receive a waiver for his chairmanship. Rep. James Lankford, a T&I transpo bill conferee and a newly elected member of the Republican leadership team as policy chair, told MT he’s spoken with Bill Shuster about the job but not heard about Mica’s waiver situation nor talked to the chairman about returning. Lankford added that he and other leadership/Steering Committee members are about “to be bombarded” with chairmanship lobbying pleas, but he hadn’t heard of anyone other than Shuster that had thrown his hat into the ring for T&I.
The pros for Mica’s waiver situation: He passed long-stalled surface transportation and FAA bills despite long odds and a Democratic Senate and White House; showed that old school lawmakers can triumph over tea party stalwarts by defeating Sandy Adams in a House primary; and Paul Ryan is getting a waiver for the Budget Committee gavel.
The cons: Mica didn’t run for vice president; we have yet to talk to anyone that believes Mica will get a waiver.
One wrinkle: It’s possible Mica eventually receives a subcommittee chairmanship on T&I or Oversight, which might alleviate some hard feelings. It wouldn’t be the same as a full committee gavel but would allow Mica to maintain a leadership role and set him up for a run at the Oversight chairmanship in 2014 when Rep. Darrell Issa runs into his own term limit.
WRDA HEARING TODAY: The Senate EPW Committee holds a hearing on the WRDA bill today, but the real action will come next year. With the next Congress looking a lot like the current one, and Obama staying in the White House, work over the lame-duck is still meaningful as it lays the groundwork for next year. A day before the hearing, EPW’s Jim Inhofe and David Vitter are making clear their desire for Army Corps reform. The duo, along with all Republicans on the committee, penned a letter (http://1.usa.gov/QHepj2) to EPW head Barbara Boxer asking that the bill streamline the corps project delivery process, enhance oversight, find a new way to prioritize water projects and address both the inland waterway and harbor maintenance trust funds. The committee "needs to ensure that the Corps is a responsible steward of the studies, projects and policies that Congress authorized in previous WRDA bills," they wrote.
HSR FOE HAPPY TO HAVE ALLY: T&I member Jeff Denham, who’s been a hard-hitting and vocal opponent of California’s high-speed rail project, told MT this week that he doesn’t know what the rest of the year holds in store after the committee postponed its high-speed rail hearing for this week. “I don’t have any idea yet until we actually see what the schedule will be,” he said of future hearings or other action. But one thing's for sure: He’s happy that Rep.-elect Doug LaMalfa, who led GOP opposition to the project during his time in the California Senate, will soon be at his side in D.C. Denham told MT that he’s “definitely” excited about the prospects of having a working ally. “He’s been very active on the state side so I suspect him to be very active on it here too,” Denham said.
MWAA PREPS FOR HEARING: Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Chairman Michael Curto said Wednesday morning that MWAA’s board is taking the DOT IG’s report critical of the authority’s contracting and ethics practices “very seriously” and cited progress in addressing the audit. “Our primary focus in responding to the report is rebuilding public trust, assuring accountability and instituting best practices across the Airports Authority,” Curto said, promising to use the IG report to “increase transparency, strengthen governance and build renewed public trust.” MWAA President Jack Potter said a new technical document on contracting practices for the authority that oversees two D.C.-area airports as well as Metro’s Silver Line construction is “on track to have a new version ready for the Board’s approval very soon.” House T&I is scheduled to hold a hearing Friday on the report’s findings, including testimony from Secretary Ray LaHood.
For whom the road tolls: MWAA also voted to boost rates on the Dulles Toll Road on Wednesday, a move long in the works that will help fund Metro’s Silver Line extension to Dulles Airport. Rates at the main toll plaza will rise from $1.50 now to $1.75 in 2013 and $2.50 in 2014. But the MWAA board put off deciding the 2015 rates, “citing the potential for additional funding sources for constructing Phase 2 of the Metrorail Silver Line,” the agency said in a release.
BOOK IT: “Fast Trains — America’s High Speed Future” is coming to a bookstore near you. The book is being put together by the United States High Speed Rail Association’s Emy Louie and Tom Hart as the U.S. prepares for California to deliver the country’s first true high-speed rail infrastructure.
THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ)
- GAO issues new report: “Public Transit: Funding for New Starts and Small Starts Projects, October 2004 through June 2012.” http://1.usa.gov/QH7aYx
Washington Post (Associated Press Reprint): Gov. Malloy says damage to Connecticut from Sandy to cost more than $360 million, will climb
HARTFORD, Conn. — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy says the cost of damage to Connecticut businesses and homes by Superstorm Sandy is more than $360 million and climbing.
Washington Post: VRE urges Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board to restore funds
Virginia Railway Express officials are seeking to restore millions in federal transportation funding that they say could have a huge impact on service.
Minnesota Public Radio: St. Louis Park residents protest SW light rail plans
ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. — As plans for a third light rail line move forward in the Twin Cities, some people who live along the proposed route between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie are concerned about their quality of life.
The Examiner: Maryland running out of transportation money, state analysts warn
ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland has no money to build new transportation projects and in five years won't have enough money to maintain its roads and transit, the state's top budget analyst told lawmakers Tuesday afternoon.
IBJ.com: Transit supporters set to kick off new campaign
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is scheduled to appear at a rally Thursday where mass-transit supporters will unveil a new campaign to push for a voter referendum in central Indiana.
CBS New York: MTA Chairman’s Name Tossed Into Mix For Mayoral Race
christine quinn, ed koch, Hank Sheinkopf, Joseph Lhota, Mayoral Race, New York City Mayor, Rich Lamb
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – On the heels of his handling of the recovery in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota’s name has come up as a possible Republican candidate for mayor.
Fast Lane: New York's transportation recovery continues, as once-submerged Carey Tunnel reopens
With the reopening of the Hugh L. Carey (Brooklyn-Battery) Tunnel yesterday, New York marked a significant milestone in its effort to restore transportation after Hurricane Sandy. And I was proud to be in New York to celebrate that achievement with Governor Andrew Cuomo and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chairman Joe Lhota.
Boston.com (Associated Press Reprint): Obama authorizes aid to 2 RI counties hit by Sandy
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — President Barack Obama has approved Rhode Island’s request for a disaster declaration in Newport and Washington counties, making property owners there eligible for federal assistance if they suffered damage from Superstorm Sandy.
“Investing money in our roads and bridges today saves money in the long run. It also builds the foundation for our 21st century economy.”