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Infrastructure in the News 10.7.16




(Podcast interview with former Sec. Ray LaHood)

“The incubators for creativity and new thinking in transportation are in the cities and in the states. This is where the action is happening. It’s not happening in Washington DC.”- Ray LaHood




Associated Press: Damaged NJ Transit train removed from terminal after crash

A damaged New Jersey Transit commuter train that crashed into Hoboken’s terminal last week, killing a woman on the platform and injuring more than 100 people, has been removed from the station to undergo further examination.


Associated Press: NTSB: Train in New Jersey crash was going twice speed limit

A New Jersey Transit commuter train sped up and was going twice the 10 mph speed limit just before it crashed into Hoboken’s terminal last week, killing a woman on the platform and injuring more than 100 people, federal investigators said Thursday.


Washington Post: Are you safer in a Tesla on autopilot, as Elon Musk says? Let’s do the math.

Since a Tesla car on autopilot had a fatal crash in May, killing the driver, we’ve been hearing debates about whether the company’s “self-driving” cars are safe. On October 4, California’s regulators asked Tesla to stop advertising its cars using the word “autopilot” until and unless the car could actually drive itself, without human intervention.


Washington Post: Are you ready to try a driverless car? 70 percent of Americans say yes

Americans may be far more ready to hop into a driverless car than anyone thought, according to a new survey by the Consumer Technology Association.


New York Times: Over 190 Countries Adopt Plan to Offset Air Travel Emissions

Governments from more than 190 countries on Thursday adopted a measure that for the first time will reduce the climate impact of international jet travel.


The Hill: Federal investment in infrastructure is critical to economic growth

One of the hottest topics on the campaign trail this election season has been the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The need to rebuild and improve our mass transit networks, roads and bridges is unquestionably one of America’s greatest challenges. But, it is also a great opportunity to put millions of Americans to work and give the economy a shot in the arm.




Wired: How to Move 2 Million People Out of Hurricane Matthew’s Way

ACROSS SWATHS OF Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina, half the highway lanes have reversed. Traffic engineers call this “contraflow,” the volte-face of normal traffic. Now, on both sides of these roads, vehicles only run one way—away from Hurricane Matthew.


Associated Press: New Jersey lawmakers to vote on 23-cent gas tax hike

If you’re used to filling up the gas tank in New Jersey for cheap, head there soon to top off because lawmakers and Gov. Chris Christie are set to enact a 23-cent gas tax hike.


LA Times: Campaigns supporting Metro's transportation tax bring in more than $4.5 million

Supporters of a proposed sales tax increase that would fund a dramatic expansion of Los Angeles County’s passenger rail network have contributed more than $4.5 million this year, campaign disclosures show.


Wall Street Journal: Empty Hanjin Containers Pile Up, Causing Headaches at Southern California’s Ports (full article follows Morning Transportation)

As Hanjin Shipping Co. vessels drop off containers after weeks stranded at sea following the company’s bankruptcy, ports are dealing with a new problem: what to do with the empty boxes they leave behind.


Telluride Daily Planet: On the Ballot: Approval of a Regional Transportation Authority

Residents of Telluride, Mountain Village and parts of San Miguel County will have the opportunity to vote for the formation of a regional transportation authority this November..


WAMU 88.5: Political Pressure Builds On Metro To Bring Back Late-Night Service

The District is preparing to ramp up the political pressure on the region’s transit authority to restore late-night rail service after the SafeTrack reconstruction program ends in the middle of 2017.


By Brianna Gurciullo | 10/07/2016 05:40 AM EDT

With help from Lauren Gardner and Tanya Snyder

HOBOKEN TRAIN WAS MOVING AT DOUBLE THE SPEED LIMIT: Findings from the investigation into the crash at New Jersey Transit's Hoboken terminal are increasingly pointing toward human error. The NTSB said Thursday that the train was traveling 21 mph - double the speed limit - at the time of the Sept. 29 incident that left a woman dead and over 100 people injured, our Lauren Gardner reports . Officials were able to retrieve the event recorder from the front end of the train this week. According to information captured on that recorder, the commuter train was moving at about 8 mph when the throttle increased, an estimated 38 seconds before it slammed into the terminal. The engineer tried to brake less than a second before the train hit the bumping post, according to data from the recorder.

A new mandate: N.J. Transit has now made it a rule that the conductor needs to stand with the engineer when arriving at Hoboken and Atlantic City, according to The New York Times. The platforms at both terminals are at the ends of the rails. "This change in procedures is akin to requiring that the first mate stand next to a ship's captain and point out any route markers or potential hazards as the ship comes into port," the Times reported . It's not clear if the order "was a reaction to what has been learned about the circumstances of the crash," and a spokeswoman for N.J. Transit declined to comment to the Times.

HAPPY FRIDAY: Good morning and 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 or @brigurciullo.

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ICAO REACHES AVIATION EMISSIONS AGREEMENT: The U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization struck a deal Thursday in an effort to prevent aircraft emissions from increasing after 2020. The body approved a global market-based system that will make airlines offset their emissions, POLITICO Europe's Sara Stefanini and Joshua Posaner report. Participation in the program will be voluntary starting in 2021 and required in 2027, with exceptions for the world's least-developed nations. The United States has volunteered for the early phase.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement that DOT "welcomes the approval of this cost-effective approach, as it will help the industry grow in a sustainable way while avoiding the threat of a patchwork of overlapping market measures by different regions of the world."

Industry's all for it: Groups representing the U.S. aviation industry also praised the agreement Thursday. A4A's vice president for environmental affairs, Nancy Young, said in a statement that a global program "prevents countries from imposing unilateral measures on international aviation."

Business aviation groups applauded a carve-out in the agreement for so-called small emitters, your MT host reports for Pros. Pete Bunce, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association's president and CEO, said in a statement that including those operators "would have made administration of the scheme onerous and expensive for small businesses."

Greens aren't so satisfied: Some environmental groups say the agreement will do little to reduce aviation emissions beyond what would already happen as the industry becomes more efficient.

ATA OPPOSES PROPOSED SPEED LIMITER RULE: The American Trucking Associations isn't happy about DOT's proposed electronic speed limiter rule for heavy-duty vehicles. As our Tanya Snyder reports for Pros, the group's president and CEO, Chris Spear, said Thursday that the department should have stuck to a proposed 65 mph speed limit instead of saying it would consider three limits - 60, 65 and 68 mph. ATA has pushed DOT to create a rule on speed limiters for the past decade.

Spear also said: "Most disconcerting is the fact that DOT's new rulemaking does not address the differentials in speed that would exist between any of the three proposed national speed limits for trucks and the speed laws of multiple states - allowing passenger vehicles to travel at much higher speeds than commercial trucks." ATA has asked DOT to give the public 30 more days to comment on the proposed rule.

FAA LOOKS TO UPDATE PILOT TRAINING: The FAA is responding to a deadly 2009 regional jet crash with a proposed rule that aims to improve pilot training. As Tanya reports, the rule "would require new pilots to undergo a period of observation before being integrated into the flight crew and aspiring pilots-in-command would get a more robust curriculum before advancing. Pilots-in-command would also receive training in leadership and command and mentoring."

Recent accidents shined a spotlight on training for pilots. In 2009, 49 people on Colgan Air Flight 3407 died in a crash in New York. The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the crash was the "captain's inappropriate response to the activation of the stick shaker, which led to an aerodynamic stall from which the airplane did not recover."

TO CUBA WE GO: U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is on a "fact-finding mission" this week in Cuba, where he will meet with senior Cuban officials, members of the private sector, conservationists and farmers, Pro Trade's Megan Cassella reports. A spokesman for USTR said Froman will focus on economic issues. Second lady Jill Biden will visit Cuba this weekend, with stops in Havana and Camaguey. Last week, President Barack Obama nominated diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis to be the U.S. ambassador to Cuba, though the Senate is unlikely to confirm the nomination.

DEFAZIO: C'MON, WE CAN COVER MORE TRAINS THAN THAT: The House Transportation Committee's ranking member wants the Obama administration to expand its proposed rule on oil spill response, Tanya reports for Pros. Rep. Peter DeFazio wrote in a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx that the proposed rule, which would require some railroads to have oil response plans, should include any train carrying 42,000 or more gallons of crude oil. The criteria in the current proposal "is far too limiting," DeFazio wrote. The Oregon Democrat also wants DOT to mandate that railroads respond to high hazard flammable train accidents within six hours. Right now, the proposed rule suggests 12 hours.

ICYMI: The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission decided this week to deny a proposal that would have allowed energy company Phillips 66 to receive crude oil by train, the SLO Tribune reported. "The proposal had pitted Phillips 66 and its supporters, who said the project was safe and would provide jobs, against residents and officials in cities on the rail line across the state who said they feared a derailment that could devastate their communities," according to the Tribune.

Last month, the city council of Benicia, Calif. rejected a similar plan from Valero Energy after the Surface Transportation Board decided that interstate commerce law doesn't give it the power to stop local governments from denying requests to build oil train facilities, as our Lauren Gardner reported for Pros at the time.


- "Hurricane Matthew: Airline cancellations soar to 3,785 through Saturday." USA Today.

- "Verizon to start selling wireless data plans for drones." The Wall Street Journal.

- "Former Christie aide: I was wrong to say governor 'flat out lied' about Bridgegate." POLITICO New Jersey.

- "Political pressure builds on Metro to bring back late-night service." WAMU 88.5.

- NHTSA requests comments on how to improve the Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria. The Federal Register.

- "Are you ready to try a driverless car? 70 percent of Americans say yes." The Washington Post.

- "Empty Hanjin containers pile up, causing headaches at Southern California's ports." The Wall Street Journal.

- "Street for cyclists may be solution as NYC faces subway shutdown." Bloomberg.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 63 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 357 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 31 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,457 days.


12 p.m. - Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association President Mark Baker leads an Aero Club luncheon discussion. Capital Hilton Hotel, 1001 16th St. NW.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

To view online:

Stories from POLITICO Pro

NTSB: Train was traveling 21 mph before crash in Hoboken Back

By Lauren Gardner | 10/06/2016 04:38 PM EDT

The New Jersey Transit train that crashed into the Hoboken terminal last week was traveling twice the posted speed limit at the time of the incident, NTSB said today, disclosing findings that increasingly suggest human error.

The event recorder retrieved from the front end of the train earlier this week shows it was traveling at 21 miles per hour when it hit the bumping post at the end of the platform, NTSB said. The forward-facing video recorder obtained from the wreckage captured the sound of the train's horn blasting one minute before the crash, corroborating the engineer's testimony that he sounded it as he approached the station.

The train was traveling at about 8 miles per hour when the throttle increased from idle to the No. 4 position, an estimated 38 seconds before the crash, NTSB said, citing information captured by the event recorder. That's when the train began to accelerate to 21 miles per hour.

Data from the recorder shows the engineer did attempt to brake, but not until less than a second before his train smashed into the bumping post.

NTSB technical experts and others involved in the investigation will meet at the board's D.C. headquarters Oct. 11 "to continue to verify and validate the data recovered from both cab car recorders," the board said.


Global aviation emissions-cutting deal agreed Back

By Sara Stefanini and Joshua Posaner | 10/06/2016 11:51 AM EDT

The United Nations aviation body's 191 countries reached agreement today on a system aimed at keeping the industry's greenhouse gas emissions from rising after 2020, according to a European Commission announcement.

The International Civil Aviation Organization's new global market-based mechanism will require airlines to offset their emissions by putting money into climate-friendly projects as well as making their flights and operations more efficient. It was agreed after many years of talks and 10 days of negotiations at ICAO's general assembly in Montreal.

The market-based system will be voluntary in 2021 and mandatory for all countries except the poorest and least developed by 2027.

ICAO will then review the system's performance every three years from 2022. Like in the Paris climate agreement, this review could be an opportunity to strengthen emissions reduction efforts.

The aviation industry largely welcomed the agreement as a way to level the international playing field. The EU is currently the only jurisdiction in the world that imposes emissions limits on flights.

Climate advocates said the system marks a necessary starting point, but still lacks strict rules on how airlines can offset their emissions. They were also disappointed by a decision Wednesday night to delete a line in a separate document requiring ICAO to set a long-term goal matching the Paris agreement's aim to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and eventually 1.5 degrees.

Aviation produces 2 percent of the world's emissions, but its effect on the climate amounts to 4.9 percent because the greenhouse gases are released higher in the atmosphere. If unchecked, aviation emissions are expected to rise by 300 percent by 2050.

This article first appeared on POLITICO.EU on Oct. 6, 2016.


General aviation groups praise 'small emitter' exemption in ICAO deal Back

By Brianna Gurciullo | 10/06/2016 02:51 PM EDT

Business aviation groups praised a carve-out for so-called small emitters as part of an international aviation emissions agreement struck today.

The global market-based measure that ICAO approved today will eventually make airlines offset their emissions. It will be voluntary in 2021 and mandatory in 2027, except for the world's least developed nations.

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association said the agreement includes exemptions for operators with international flights that emit less than 10,000 metric tons of CO2 every year and small planes that weigh less than 5,700 kilograms. Pete Bunce, GAMA's president and CEO, said including those operators and aircraft "would have made administration of the scheme onerous and expensive for small businesses."

The National Business Aviation Association also applauded the deal and said ICAO's plan "requires U.S. government action in order to be applicable to companies using business aviation."

"The next three years will be important, as countries evaluate compliance with the international carbon-offsetting standard," said Ed Bolen, NBAA's president and CEO. "We expect that the Federal Aviation Administration, which will lead U.S. efforts, will evaluate the impact of the agreement before finalizing plans that affect U.S. operators."


Countries near aviation emissions deal, but greens see few gains Back

By Eric Wolff and Brianna Gurciullo | 10/03/2016 05:00 AM EDT

International negotiators are close to setting the first-ever global rules for carbon emissions from commercial aircraft, and though the Obama administration and airlines are hailing the pact, greens complain it won't curb the growth in aviation emissions beyond what the industry is already doing.

The Paris climate change agreement struck late last year committed nations to taking action to cut greenhouse gas pollution, but it left out aviation emissions, which account for 5 percent of human-induced warming, according to recent research. The task has been left to the U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization, which has been working for three years to produce carbon-limiting proposals.

But like the discussions for the climate deal in Paris, negotiators have struggled to strike a consensus that appeals to the developed nations seeking to address climate change and the poorer countries eager to see their aviation industries grow.

Now, at talks taking place in Montreal, delegates are pushing a multi-pronged approach that includes promoting the development of aviation biofuels and more efficient aircraft operations, setting a carbon standard for aircraft built after 2020 and creating a cap on emissions at 2020 levels that would require airlines to buy offsets in a global market if they exceed that threshold.

A draft carbon standard for engine emissions emerged in February is expected to be finalized in March 2017, and market-based measures to further curb emissions growth are likely to be approved this week at the ICAO assembly. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has praised the effort as a historic step in fighting climate change, which has been a top agenda item for President Barack Obama in his final years in office.

"If we cross our fingers and click our heels, we'll have one of the most significant policies adopted worldwide to reduce climate emissions of airplanes across the world," Foxx said at a conference last week. "It is a big deal, and is a big piece of business and a big priority for the president."

But environmental groups fear that the new provisions won't do anything to reduce pollution from aircraft any faster than efficiencies that are already expected from technological innovations.

"What's been recommended would not reduce emissions beyond business as usual," said Dan Rutherford, who heads the aviation and marine program at the International Council for Clean Transportation.

Airlines already have a strong economic incentive to cut their fuel use, and are always pushing for the engine-makers to deliver maximum efficiency. But environmentalists like Bill Hemmings, director of aviation and shipping for Brussels-based Transport and Environment, said the ICAO standard, which applies to aircraft produced after 2020, fails to push efficiencies "beyond what market forces would do."

The U.S. airline industry, which EPA says contributes 3 percent of the total U.S. carbon footprint, contends that green groups are missing the big picture.

"These two pieces in one year would be a marvelous achievement," said Nancy Young, vice president for environmental affairs at the trade group Airlines for America. "We should celebrate instead of continuing to grind the ax."

She contends the standard would create "an increment" of carbon emissions improvement beyond what would happen without it.

"We're not saying it's Star Trek technology, but it brings an additional reduction," she said.

Still, airline miles traveled are expected to keep growing, especially in the developing world, and ICAO concedes in its proposals that expected improvements in engines and operations need more time and won't stop growth of carbon dioxide emissions after 2020. To fill the gap, ICAO has proposed market-based measures.

These measures are designed less to create economic incentives for airlines to lower emissions than to help fund carbon reduction technologies in other sectors of the global economy through purchase of offsets in international markets, like the one operating in the EU. In its first 10 years, the cost of offsets for emissions beyond 2020 levels would be shared across the industry. That means the low-growth airlines in developed nations would subsidize the emissions of fast-growth airlines in developing nations.

In a further concession to developing nations, the program would be voluntary for its first six years. ICAO has been collecting promises to join the early phases of the program, and nations representing at least 61 percent of post-2020 emissions growth have indicated they would participate, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

Nonetheless, China, Brazil and India balked at the plan last week, leading them to engage in a round of one-on-one discussions with the Australian chair of the meeting. ICAO officials hope to get consensus on the proposal and move it before a plenary session for approval this week. Sources in Montreal said that China is demanding more from the U.S., and they don't expect the issue to be ready for public debate until Tuesday at the earliest.

While U.S. airlines support the ICAO proposals, they may eventually face stricter requirements in their home market. EPA and FAA, the two agencies responsible for implementing the ICAO standards, finalized an endangerment finding in July that said emissions from aircraft contribute to climate change, the first step toward a carbon rule for aircraft, and EPA has promised its own standard would be "at least" as stringent as ICAO's.

A schedule for that rulemaking will likely be published this fall in the administration's regulatory schedule.

The airlines have said that going beyond the international standard would put U.S. airlines at a competitive disadvantage, and Young said any regulations in the U.S. should be in line with the ICAO rule.

Still, it's not clear that FAA or EPA have the legal authority to impose some parts of the ICAO agreement in the U.S., especially the authority for a market-based offset program. FAA is authorized to implement ICAO's safety and technical rules, but requiring U.S. airlines to participate in the carbon offset market may require Congress to rewrite some statutes related to international emissions-trading programs.

"We think that can be easily handled in a tailored sort of way though the existing legislation," Young said.

Tanya Snyder contributed to this report.


ATA rejects DOT's electronic speed limiter proposal Back

By Tanya Snyder | 10/06/2016 04:30 PM EDT

The American Trucking Associations today came out against a proposed electronic speed limiter rule, which it has pressed DOT to create for 10 years.

ATA President and CEO Chris Spear criticized DOT's proposed rulemaking for including a "menu" of three speed limits instead of the single, 65-mph speed limit the trucking group had proposed. Spear also sounded the alarm about the speed differential between speed-limited trucks and the flow of passenger vehicle traffic.

"[DOT's proposal] provides insufficient data, and fails to make a recommendation regarding which of the three proposed speeds it believes is best and why," Spear said in a statement. "This lack of data and direction only elevates the safety risks to the motoring public."

Spear pledged the ATA would "prepare its formal comments, fully illustrating the flaws of this proposed rulemaking, which we will not support as currently drafted."


FAA proposes to improve pilot professionalism and training Back

By Tanya Snyder | 10/06/2016 12:02 PM EDT

The FAA is proposing a rule intended to improve airline pilot training, a direct response to a deadly 2009 regional jet crash that has spurred a raft of regulatory changes for commercial aviation.

The NPRM, which will be published in tomorrow's Federal Register, would require new pilots to undergo a period of observation before being integrated into the flightcrew and aspiring pilots-in-command would get a more robust curriculum before advancing. Pilots-in-command would also receive training in leadership and command and mentoring.

Pilot Professional Development Committees would develop, administer, and oversee formal pilot mentoring programs.

Pilot distraction, commuting issues, pay and lack of training received heightened attention after several incidents, including the deaths of 49 people aboard Colgan Air flight 3407 in 2009.


Froman trip to Cuba to focus on 'economic fact-finding' Back

By Megan Cassella | 10/06/2016 01:00 PM EDT

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman's trip to Cuba this week will focus on the economy and include a series of meetings with members of both the public and private sectors, a USTR spokesman said today.

"Ambassador Froman is leading an economic fact-finding mission in Cuba as part of the ongoing dialogue between the two countries," USTR spokesman Matt McAlvanah said in a statement.

The trip, which began Wednesday and runs through Sunday, will include meetings with senior Cuban officials, private-sector stakeholders, conservation advocates and farmers, he said.

When USTR announced the trip earlier this week, the agency described it only as involving Froman and acting Deputy USTR Matt Vogel in "bilateral meetings."

The trip comes on the heels of President Barack Obama's long-shot nomination last week of the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, to be the United States' ambassador to the communist country.


DeFazio: DOT should expand oil spill response NPRM to cover more trains Back

By Tanya Snyder | 10/06/2016 03:18 PM EDT

Rep. Peter DeFazio is asking DOT to expand its oil spill response NRPM for oil trains to go beyond the current tank car volume threshold at which the rule would apply.

The NPRM, published in July, would require railroads to have oil response plans if they transport 20 or more loaded oil tank cars in one continuous block or 35 loaded oil tank cars spread throughout the consist, or if any one car contains 42,000 or more gallons of crude.

Since the typical tank car holds about 30,000 gallons, DeFazio complained that the second part of the requirement is meaningless.

"This threshold is far too limiting," DeFazio wrote in a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "We have seen numerous rail incidents in the recent past where only one or two tank cars were punctured and the release caused substantial damage to surrounding areas, including environmentally sensitive areas."

DeFazio is asking the agency to change the rule to include any train carrying 42,000 or more gallons of crude oil, whether in one car or many.

"Several short line railroads on the West Coast, for example, transport multiple tank cars of liquid petroleum oil within their consist, yet they will not be required to develop a comprehensive oil spill response plan because they transport less than 20 loaded tank cars of liquid petroleum oil on a single train. As the State of Oregon noted in comments to the Advanced NPRM, I urge you to consider requiring a comprehensive oil spill response plan for railroads that transport 42,000 gallons or more of crude oil in any train consist, not just in a single tank car," he wrote.

DeFazio, who authored the original language in the FAST Act that required the NPRM, also asked DOT to require railroads to respond to high hazard flammable train accidents within six hours or less, not 12 hours as the NPRM currently suggests.

He also took issue with the requirement that railroads address spills within 12 hours, a time period he said was "far too long."


STB clears way for California city to block oil train facility Back

By Lauren Gardner | 09/21/2016 06:41 PM EDT

The Surface Transportation Board declined this week to block a California city from rejecting a plan to build a facility that would enable more oil trains to pass through the area, but only because the project's owner was an energy company, not a railroad.

Oil refiner Valero Energy had petitioned the STB to step in and prevent Benicia, Calif., from denying the company permits to build the facility in the city, which is also home to one of the company's refineries.

Environmentalists cheered the Tuesday rejection as a victory in their effort to encourage local governments - which fear catastrophes like the oil train explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people in 2013 - to reject projects that could bring vast quantities of crude oil through their communities.

The regulator is likely to find itself at the center of future high-profile cases like this since trains remain one of the most viable methods of transporting oil, much like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has became a hotbed of controversy as green groups have sought to block permits for pipelines that ship fossil fuels.

But STB made it clear that its members rebuffed Valero in this instance only because it was not a rail carrier, nor was it handling transportation services for one, and therefore does not fall under the board's jurisdiction.

STB's decision that interstate commerce law doesn't allow it to preempt the Benicia government from denying the permits to Valero came hours ahead of a unanimous city council vote scuttling the project.

It's not yet clear whether Valero will take its fight to court. A company spokeswoman said executives are "considering our options moving forward."

"After nearly four years of review and analysis by independent experts and the city, we are disappointed that the city council members have chosen to reject the crude by rail project," Valero spokeswoman Lillian Riojas said.

STB's decision included guidance that even if Benicia had approved the permits, the bayside city near San Francisco wouldn't have carte blanche to impose conditions on Valero, since they could "unreasonably" bleed into operations by Union Pacific, the freight railroad the refiner planned to have service the offloading facility.

"As an initial matter, any attempt to regulate UP's rail operations on its lines would be categorically preempted," STB wrote. "Otherwise, state and local regulation is permissible where it does not unreasonably interfere with rail transportation."

If circumstances changed and the railroad were to build or own the offloading facility project, "then it would clearly be preempted by the federal law," Karen Torrent, federal legislative director at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said of Benicia's permit denial.

The Association of American Railroads declined to comment on Tuesday's decision, but it had voiced its support for Valero's petition in July, expressing concern that a "patchwork" of rules among states and localities could stymie freight operations.

"This case now presents the Board with the situation where state and local permitting requirements are being applied to rail-served customer facilities with the purpose of controlling - and often preventing - rail transportation," AAR attorney Timothy J. Strafford wrote.

Jackie Prange, a Natural Resources Defense Council staff attorney, said the ruling has broader implications because local governments in California and the Pacific Northwest grappling with similar projects have monitored the Benicia case.

The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission is scheduled to hold its final hearing Thursday on a proposal by refiner Phillips 66 to bring millions of gallons of crude per week into its Santa Maria refinery by train. The company asked the county last month to delay the hearing, anticipating that STB would not have issued its decision in the Benicia case by now, according to a local report.

Staff at the county commission have recommended that officials reject the project.


Former Christie aide: I was wrong to say governor 'flat out lied' about Bridgegate Back

By Ryan Hutchins | 10/06/2016 05:45 PM EDT

NEWARK - A former aide to Chris Christie said Thursday she was wrong to say the Republican governor "flat out lied" about the involvement of one of his top aides in the George Washington Bridge scandal.

Christina Renna, who worked for defendant Bridget Anne Kelly in Christie's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, testified in federal court that she had no direct knowledge what the governor did or did not know about the unfolding scandal in December 2013.

It was at that time - during a high-profile statehouse press conference - when Christie was asked if he could "say with certainty" that no one on his staff was involved in the closure of access lanes to the bridge three months earlier.

Christie said he was certain, and specifically said top aide and campaign manager Bill Stepien had no role in the incident.

"Oh yeah. I've spoken to Mr. Stepien, who's the person in charge of the campaign, and he has assured me the same thing," Christie said.

But as the governor was talking, Renna was texting another Christie aide, Peter Sheridan, about what was unfolding.

"Are you listening? He just flat out lied about senior staff and Stepien not being involved," Renna wrote in the text message, which was displayed in court on Thursday and had been previously released as part of pre-trial motions.

Renna testified on Thursday that a conversation she had with Kelly the night before the press conference had led her to believe Christie knew more than he let on, but that she didn't know that for a fact.

"It was a poor choice of words. I had no knowledge of whether the governor was lying or not during that press conference," Renna said on the witness stand in U.S. District Court. "I knew personally what Governor Christie was saying seemed to contradict what I was just told."

Renna, who also said during the text message exchange that Kelly "must be shitting herself right now," testified in court that she had spoken to Kelly the night before about the lane closures.

During the calls, Kelly said Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and one of the defendants in the case, was going to resign the next day and that Christie would address the subject at the press conference.

Kelly also asked about when the governor's office had sought the endorsement of Mark Sokolich, the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee. Kelly and Baroni are accused of closing the lanes to punish Sokolich for not endorsing Chrisite.

When Renna said Sokolich had been approached in the spring, Kelly seemed to feel better, she testified.

"At that point she said she felt relieved because Kevin O'Dowd, who at that time was Govenror Christie's chief of staff, had called her and had a conversation with her that she described to be very nerve-racking," Renna said, adding that Kelly told her she was "getting a bunch of questions about this" and was "getting grilled" by O'Dowd.

Kelly asked Renna to delete an email exchange they had on the last day of the lane closures - one in which Renna described an angry phone call another staffer received from Sokolich. The mayor had described how bad traffic had become in the borough, which hosts the bridge, and said he thought it might be some kind of act of political retribution.

"Good," Kelly had replied.

Their call dropped at some point, and Renna said she spoke to Kelly again a short time later. "The second conversation she was very nervous," Renna said. "She was talking very fast, repeating herself a lot."

At one point, Renna recalled, Kelly stopped her from talking and said: "You know, Christina, if someone tells me something is OK, who am I to question them?"

Renna said she started to reply, "right" and that if Stepien or David Wildstein - a Port Authority official who planned the lane closures - told her something she "wouldn't question them either," but Kelly cut her off before she could finish the thought.

"I don't need your vindication, Christina," Renna recalled Kelly saying.

Kelly later said she believed Wildstein could show the lane closures were part of a traffic study.

"If David says there's traffic study, I have no doubt there's proof there's a traffic study," Renna recalled Kelly saying.

Baroni and Kelly were indicted last May on charges of conspiracy, fraud and civil rights violations. Wildstein, who was the Port's director of interstate capital projects and worked under Baroni, has already pleaded guilty and implicated the two others.

Christie, who is currently a top adviser to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, has denied any knowledge or involvement in the Bridgegate incident. But Wildstein testified he and Baroni told the governor about the traffic problems on the third day of the lane closures.

Renna, who currently works for the South Jersey Chamber of Commerce, is scheduled to be back on the stand Friday. After that, prosecutors plan to call Deborah Gramiccioni, who was a deputy chief of staff to Christie and became the Port Authority's deputy executive director after Baroni.


Wall Street Journal: Empty Hanjin Containers Pile Up, Causing Headaches at Southern California’s Ports

As Hanjin Shipping Co. vessels drop off containers after weeks stranded at sea following the company’s bankruptcy, ports are dealing with a new problem: what to do with the empty boxes they leave behind.

Since the South Korean ocean carrier filed for bankruptcy five weeks ago, roughly 15,000 Hanjin containers have trickled in through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, often weeks after they were due to arrive. Now emptied of their goods, many are cluttering warehouse yards and parking lots across Southern California. With Hanjin’s ships no longer making the trans-Pacific trip, the company’s containers aren’t needed to carry goods back and forth.

While the stranded containers themselves are a nuisance, logistics companies say the bigger issue is that many are still attached to the wheeled trailers that trucks used to get them off the docks. These pieces of equipment, known as chassis, are vital to port operations, and putting thousands out of commission can delay the container deliveries for all shipping companies—not just Hanjin—people in the industry say.

Of the handful of Hanjin ships that docked in Southern California in recent weeks, only one took back containers on its return trip to Asia. The ports and many of their terminals in Los Angeles and Long Beach are turning away empty containers because they say they lack the space to store them.

“They have nowhere to go if they come back, and that’s a problem,” said Phil Connors, senior vice president at Flexi-Van Inc., one of three companies that leases chassis equipment to trucking companies that haul containers off the docks. “Because what’s underneath an empty [container]? A chassis.”

The nearly 10,000 parked chassis in Southern California account for more than 13% of all trailers available at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, according to local officials. In the midst of the annual peak shipping season—when imported goods surge through the ports ahead of the holidays—chassis are in high demand.

“It’s going to add additional cost that will negatively impact the profitability of Christmas,” said Mark Hirzel, a manager with freight broker A.N. Deringer Inc.

Port of Los Angeles Director Gene Seroka said he is working with private firms to find alternative locations for storing the empty boxes to free up trailers. With the requirements of the bankruptcy court, including additional paperwork and specific permissions the storage companies need to obtain, he said, “that has complicated matters.”

Officials with the Port of Long Beach declined to comment on their plans to deal with the stranded chassis.

Henry Pak, a manager with Hanjin in Long Beach, said the company is hoping to arrange a location for returning containers this week.

At least one company, Saybrook Capital, has offered to accept some leased Hanjin containers at a warehouse facility it owns, located over an hour’s drive from the ports. With a driver to pay and fuel for the trip there and back, simply dropping off an empty container could cost businesses as much as $1,600. Residents living close to the proposed facilities have complained about the additional traffic, and some cities have denied permits needed to provide a space to drop off the containers.