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POLITICO: One day more for FAA bill

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Washington, April 19, 2016 | comments

One day more for FAA bill

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ONE DAY MORE: For real this time — the final vote on the FAA bill is scheduled for today at noon, after an in-and-out Monday night session where leadership decided to punt until this morning. But why not just wrap the whole thing up on Monday? Our Heather Caygle touched base with a Senate Democratic aide, who explained that there were discussions on both sides to nail down a list of amendments that could get voice votes today — and even a few that could get roll call votes. One of the issues coming into play: Sen. Marco Rubio's proposal to end special refugee status for Cuban immigrants. Senate leaders are still trying to figure out a way to structure a consent to have those voice votes; now, there's additional time for those conversations to happen ahead of the passage vote.

Optimism abounds: Heather also caught up with Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune on Monday evening, and though he was hopeful he'd be able to tuck in his package of more than two dozen amendments with bipartisan support, he said he won’t be devastated if that’s not possible. After all, he said, there’s still the chance for those changes to be added in during a House-Senate conference — though, of course, huge questions remain about whether the House will pursue further action on their own FAA bill, and make a conference a reality.

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

THEIR LIPS ARE SEALED: As for appropriations, which begins in earnest this week, the bipartisan duo charged with shepherding DOT appropriations through the Senate declined Monday evening to divulge many details about the bill, which will be marked up in subcommittee this morning. But Sen. Susan Collins, the chairwoman of the Transportation — Housing and Urban Development spending panel, did tell our Lauren Gardner that the base bill won’t address raising weight limits for tractor-trailers. “We’ve accommodated input and requests from members on both sides of the aisle, and we’ve done our best to keep highly controversial issues for the floor rather than putting them in the base bill, so we’ll see,” the Maine Republican said. “We have written a very clean bill and a very bipartisan one."

Even more, a source who has seen the bill confirmed to POLITICO there are no new trucking-related riders in the legislation being considered this morning. However, the measure does contain a technical correction to language in the fiscal 2016 omnibus that was intended to make it more difficult for regulators to enforce tougher hours of service rules for truckers, but inadvertently would have caused pre-2003 requirements to go into effect. Industry officials have said that would wreak havoc among the workforce.

Trains on the brain: The bill also would hew to the new accounting structure for Amtrak established under the FAST Act — in addition to a small funding bump to the passenger railroad, the source said. Amtrak's appropriations have hovered around $1.4 billion for several years.

As legislators prepare to get down to business, Sen. Jack Reed praised Collins and her staff for working closely with him and other senators on the bill. He acknowledged that the DOT spending bill has become an “in-between” appropriations measure when it comes to its propensity to attract controversial policy riders, such as last year when leadership pulled the legislation from the floor after a few days. “I think this year we have a better chance,” the Rhode Island Democrat said.

FTA INSPECTIONS UNCOVER MORE WMATA PROBLEMS: The Washington Metro system is failing to provide basic safety provisions for passengers and also allowing staff toignore safety protocols put in place for their own well-being, according to a letter from the Federal Transit Administration's associate administrator to WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, obtained by the Washington Post. The letter, resulting from the regulatory agency's safety blitz that started in March, is a precursor to the compilation of a final report on the inspections.

Not exactly encouraging observations. From the Post's story: "Inspectors found emergency walkways blocked by construction debris and other materials; nonworking or expired fire extinguishers; out-of-order emergency traction power shut-off switches, which are used to cut third-rail power during an emergency; and 'filth-covered emergency and safety signage.' … 'In combination with one another, these defects create a systematic safety condition that significantly limits WMATA’s ability to manage a fire or smoke emergency in the tunnel,' Littleton wrote."

A LITTLE TOO LATE? With less than a day left before the Senate considers final passage of its bill, House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster in an op-ed in The Hill called on senators to refrain from adding “miscellaneous corporate welfare tax provisions such as those being discussed in the Senate” — provisions that were effectively dropped from consideration for the Senate’s reauthorization bill by the middle of last week. Even so, Shuster lambasted the prospect of unrelated riders attached to the bill, and touted his own tough stance against “green crony energy” tax extenders that were left out of the PATH Act and the omnibus bill. “Modernizing our FAA allows the United States the opportunity to continue to lead the world in aviation,” Shuster writes. “Attaching unrelated energy tax provisions onto legislation … has nothing to do with aviation.”

SHUSTER GETS ELEVENTH-HOUR ASSIST: As the days tick down to Shuster’s April 26 primary, he’s getting some help from a leading conservative group, which is injecting $200,000 into his campaign. That aggressive move demonstrates just how close the Pennsylvania race is — and just how imperative it is to the GOP to maintain control of Shuster’s seat and influential spot on the Transportation Committee. From POLITICO’s Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer: “The American Action Network says it will spend nearly $150,000 on a TV ad in Shuster's Western Pennsylvania district. In addition, it's paying for digital advertisements and get-out-the-vote phone calls. … A typical voter will see the AAN ad at least 10 times before the April 26 primary, based on the group's spending level.”

HUFFPO GOES AFTER TRUCKING LOBBYISTS: ICYMI, The Huffington Post has a page-turner of a story on trucking regulations related to fatigue. The headline gives a pretty good sense of what to expect: “Trucks Are Getting More Dangerous And Drivers Are Falling Asleep At The Wheel. Thank Congress.” After a pretty harrowing account from an Illinois state trooper who was struck by a flatbed big rig, the article delves into its indictment of lawmakers who, the article argues, have failed to ensure safety on America’s highways.

From the story, by Michael McAuliff: “Congress has been caving, very quietly, to lobbying from trucking interests that want to roll back, block or modify at least a half-dozen important safety regulations. Significant parts of the hauling industry have long opposed many of the federal rules governing working hours, rest periods, size and weight limits, and safety standards. … If they are successful, these changes would amount to the most significant overhaul of highway safety rules in decades. But most people don’t know such sweeping revisions are even being considered.”

OBAMA EYES NEW EMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS ON TRANSPO PROJECTS: Michael Grunwald from POLITICO’s The Agenda has some new insight on Obama’s latest effort to cut down on the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions: a proposed rule that could force recipients of federal transportation dollars to track transportation-related emissions and set goals for cutting them. "You can't manage what you don't measure," a senior Department of Transportation official told Grunwald. "This is groundbreaking stuff." It’s unclear how the rule would be enforced — there are no plans for federal targets or penalties, Grunwald writes — but administration officials still believe the measure may be helpful in putting the brakes on infrastructure projects that encourage urban sprawl and bring more cars to the roads.

All talk? From Grunwald’s story: “The rules would not prescribe or prohibit specific projects, but it's no secret that in the transportation world, concern about climate usually translates into concern about new and wider roads. Nick Goldstein, vice president for regulatory affairs with the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, warned that a mandate for agencies to set climate targets could be used as a pretext to discourage highway construction at a time when America desperately needs better infrastructure. He suggested the Obama administration has embraced an anti-asphalt mentality that assumes new roads produce demand for more cars and exurban development, when Goldstein believes they merely accommodate existing demand. ‘Everybody says they want more infrastructure projects, but they're constantly throwing more regulatory hurdles in the way,’ Goldstein said.”

ADVOCACY GROUPS: DON’T LET VW GET OFF. Four environmental advocacy groups are urging state and federal regulators to stay tough on Volkswagen, penning a letter to add their own proposals on what requirements the automaker should be forced to adhere to. In addition to making Volkswagen provide a fix for affected vehicles and a buyback program, as well as establishing a system of emissions mitigation, the group is also prodding the Justice Department and the EPA to pursue criminal charges against Volkswagen executives. “Full justice includes criminally charging individual executives who are responsible for the scandal,” the groups wrote. “It also includes the full array of criminal monetary penalties and other criminal remedies available under the law against the firm, not only to punish it but also to deter similar misconduct by others.”

CUELLAR APPLAUDS PRO-RACING DECISION: The EPA’s decision to drop a measure in a forthcoming truck efficiency rule that would have prohibited the modification of street cars — mentioned in yesterday’s MT — is getting a thumbs-up from Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.). Cuellar had advocated against the provision on behalf of off-road street racers. “The EPA’s proposal ran counter to the long-accepted interpretation of the Clean Air Act that exempted these changes to cars,” Cuellar said in a statement. “Now racing enthusiasts in my district and across the country can continue to make modifications without fear of punishment.”

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