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06/14/2021 10:00 AM EDT
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COMING TO COMMERCE: The seemingly never-ending infrastructure negotiations will continue this week, but a more substantive conversation will be happening in the Senate Commerce Committee, which will meet Wednesday to mark up its portions of the Senate’s surface transportation bill.
The markup represents another major piece of movement in the reauthorization process, as the committee will vote to approve legislation consisting of the rail and road safety segments of the larger surface bill. Like the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s highway portion of the bill, Commerce’s proposal is bipartisan and introduced by the committee’s two top Democrats and Republicans.
Some policy details: The Commerce bill is a mixed bag for Amtrak , reports James Bikales, our summer intern ( follow him on Twitter here!). It would shield the railroad’s long-distance routes from cuts, but also rebuke some of the railroad's recent business decisions, like changes to ticketing agents.
Big steps for safety: The bill would also take steps to try to make the roads safer , installing a number of provisions that safety advocates have pushed for, James writes. One such section of the bill, which could make “advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology” standard in new vehicles, could mark the “beginning of the end of drunk driving,” MADD’s president, Alex Otte, told POLITICO. The bill would also require DOT to mandate that all new motor vehicles manufactured in the U.S. have a system that warns of forward collisions and brakes automatically to avoid them, as well as technology to keep cars in their lanes.
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A message from Freight Rail Works:
Freight rail is a model transportation network that carries its own weight, and it has the track record to prove it. With nearly $25 billion in annual private investment in physical and digital infrastructure, freight rail safely and efficiently delivers for customers today, while adapting to meet changing customer needs and increased freight demand tomorrow. Find out how rail’s private infrastructure investments fuel public good.
On the Hill
ANOTHER HILL GRILLING FOR BUTTIGIEG: The other highlight of the action on Capitol Hill this week is Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s return, to testify in front of the Senate Appropriations transportation/HUD subcommittee on Wednesday.
The current focus on infrastructure comes at an odd moment for Buttigieg. On the one hand, he’s been the administration’s most active surrogate, doing numerous media interviews every week and becoming a familiar figure on both the D.C. cable circuit and on local TV throughout the country, while also traveling to several significant states in the last few weeks.
At the same time, his agency doesn’t actually have much to do with the negotiations, besides eventually distributing many of the potential grant programs that legislation could fund or create. And despite his reputation as a Republican whisperer, Buttigieg’s conversations with Republicans and appearances on Fox haven’t led to any tangible breakthroughs.
Here’s how The Atlantic’s Edward Isaac-Dovere put it in a recent piece on the DOT chief’s role: “He’s not in charge of writing the legislation. He’s not in charge of the negotiations. He’s a conduit for concerns in Congress to the White House, and priorities from the White House back to Congress. He thinks of himself somewhat like a salesman. But before putting people in the car, he has to leave the showroom floor to check with his managers about how much he can give.”
ON THE HOUSE SIDE: The chamber will vote on bills that would permit the use of incentive payments to expedite certain federally financed airport development projects , and establish a task force on improvements to the FAA’s Notice to Airmen.
Around the Agencies
REG WATCH: One area where DOT is about to get much more active is in the regulatory sphere. The Biden administration put out its first unified agenda late last week — a roadmap to each agency’s plans and priorities for wielding regulatory authority. Some of the highlights are unsurprising, like the EPA and NHTSA reiterating President Joe Biden’s July deadline to propose updates to the federal tailpipe emissions and fuel economy standards, as our Pro Energy friends reported.
Others will make more of a splash. One that stands out is that the Biden administration is planning to revisit an FRA rule on freight rail crew sizes, after the Obama administration tried to mandate minimum two-person crews and the Trump administration abandoned the effort. The rulemaking, expected in November of this year, would “address the issue of minimum requirements for the size of different train crew staffs, depending on the type of operations,” the agenda reads.
Several safety rules in the making showcase the Biden administration’s focus on automated vehicles and auto safety. The agency is planning to seek comments on proposals to require and/or standardize equipment performance for automatic emergency braking systems for both trucks and light vehicles, a longtime priority of safety advocates.
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— “Cruise lines wrestle with Florida ban on vaccine passports.” The Wall Street Journal.
— “Car prices are soaring, and they're not going to stop.” CNN.
— “Why the Mexico City metro collapsed.” The New York Times.
A message from Freight Rail Works:
Which network is pulling double duty when it comes to efficiency and sustainability? Freight rail. As trains travel across the country, they’re not just delivering what customers and the nation need, they’re also keeping the network running smoothly and sustainably. How does freight rail do it all? By investing in both physical and digital infrastructure, which helps fuel the safe, efficient and modern rail network that powers America’s economy. This past year has proven that businesses of all sizes need consistency from their delivery partners to support their economic recovery; freight rail provides that — dependably and affordably. The billions of dollars in private investments railroads make each year deliver environmental benefits in addition to positively impacting customer service. Network-wide improvements have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions even further and ensure that trains arrive on time more consistently. Freight rail’s private investments in physical and digital infrastructure fuel a public good today, while transforming for tomorrow. See how.
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