Construction Industry News
"From the farmers who help put food on our tables to the energy suppliers who help power our homes and fuel our cars, businesses and households in South Dakota and across the nation depend on efficient and reliable freight rail. About 40 percent of our nation’s freight ton-miles moves by rail, including about 15 million tons that originate in South Dakota. In fact, about three times as many rail carloads originate in the state compared to the number that end up here, meaning South Dakotans disproportionately depend on rail to get our products to market, create jobs, and grow incomes.
"That’s why it’s so important that, when problems arise in our nation’s rail system, we have efficient and effective oversight.
"Despite concerns from businesses about the burdensome processes at the Surface Transportation Board, or STB, the Federal government agency responsible for overseeing the efficiency of the freight rail network, Congress had not reformed or reauthorized the agency since its creation in 1996.
"Needless to say, Congress did not get it right on the first try. The STB did not have the authority to proactively investigate issues of regional or national significance, hindering its ability to examine emerging issues. In addition, rate disputes before the Board have taken more than $5 million and more than three years to litigate, and changes to rate reviews had not yielded sufficient results. And because the STB had three members, and two members could form a quorum, members could not talk to one another about important regulatory and managerial issues without encountering procedural hurdles.
"This Committee took action to address these issues. Last year, following intensive oversight activity, I introduced the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015 to make the STB a more efficient and effective agency. After working on a bipartisan basis with cosponsor Ranking Member Bill Nelson, and working with my colleagues in the House of Representatives, I was pleased to see it signed into law last December.
"This hearing marks about eight months since the enactment of my legislation, and it is an opportunity to examine completed and on-going implementation work at the STB and hear about ways to maximize the law’s benefits for the businesses that depend on rail. These benefits can be thought of in three categories.
"First, the law improves the way rate cases are handled. It expedites rate review timelines, and it expands voluntary arbitration to better serve as an alternative to lawsuits. The Board has already set those new timelines, and it has issued a proposal to implement the new arbitration procedures, which I expect to be finalized well ahead of the end-of-the-year deadline. The law also requires the STB to look at simpler ways to do rate reviews, and I understand this important study is on-going. I encourage the Board to expansively survey possible alternatives to identify rate review options that make economic sense, particularly for small businesses.
"Second, the law increases proactive problem-solving and accountability. It provides the STB with the authority to launch investigations based on its own initiative, and the Board has published a proposed rule to implement this authority. It also requires the STB to submit quarterly reports on complaints and unfinished regulatory proceedings, and the Board has sent two versions of these quarterly reports that have greatly increased transparency and enhanced Congressional and public oversight of its work.
"Third, the law creates a more functional and collaborative Board. It expands the Board from three to five members. I am hopeful that the next President will quickly nominate, and the Senate quickly confirm, these additional members. The bill also allows Board members to talk to one another about important policy issues. The Board has already used this new authority to hold group discussions, and I am eager to see further increased collaboration – on regulatory proceedings and agency management – between the Board members. The law also grants the Board administrative independence and authorizes the agency for the first time since its creation.
"While many of the most important provisions of the law are still in-progress, thus far the Board has met or is on track to meet each deadline in the legislation, a feat most other Federal agencies regularly fail to do, and I greatly appreciate their efforts. This activity comes as the Board makes progress on several other important regulatory proceedings, including a rule to make permanent certain rail performance metrics – with fertilizer included. I hope the Board will continue the good progress since enactment of the legislation, and I expect this Committee to continue its active oversight to maximize the benefits of the law.
"This legislation is another example of the Senate getting back to work for the American people. That work includes the five-year, $305 billion highway bill, FAA reauthorization and aviation security bill, and the pipeline safety bill as significant Committee achievements within the past year to improve our nation’s transportation and infrastructure.
"With that said, I am eager to hear the perspectives of our first distinguished panel. I’d like to welcome Mr. Skudos, Vice President for Distribution and Business Development at POET, a South Dakota company and one of the nation’s leading biorefineries; Mr. Troy Knect, Vice President of the South Dakota Corn Growers, who runs an outstanding diversified farming operating near Houghton, South Dakota; Mr. Tom Heller, CEO of Missouri River Energy Services, a critical energy supplier with 12 municipal members in South Dakota; and Dan Mack, Vice President of Transportation and Terminal Operations, CHS, Inc., one of the nation’s largest rail shippers with over 900 employees in the state.
"South Dakota is consistently one of the top five states for the export by rail of farm products and ethanol to other states, and coal is the number one commodity imported into the state by rail, so we have a great panel that is representative of shippers in the state who depend on strong rail service.
"After testimony and questions of this panel, I will convene a second panel with all of the STB board members. I am pleased to welcome Chairman Dan Elliott, Vice Chairman Deb Miller, and Board Member Ann Begeman, all of whom have been working hard to implement the law day in and day out. Ann was born and raised on a farm near Humboldt, South Dakota, which means she not only understands agriculture and the importance of reliable rail service, but also can help the board members find a good place to eat later today.
"Thank you all for being here today and I look forward to your testimony."
WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, spoke at the South Dakota Technology Showcase on August 2, 2016, in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Thank you, Cheryl, for the introduction. And thank you to AT&T, SDN Communications, and the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry for organizing this excellent event. We have a wonderful lineup of speakers today who will highlight how the Internet of Things and other new technologies are benefiting South Dakota’s economy. I’m honored to be kicking off the discussion today.
As hard as it may be to believe, the Internet as we know it is now in its third decade. While it is no longer novel, this essential technology continues to transform the world around us, often in unexpected ways. For instance, back in the 1990’s when folks were getting acquainted with America Online, how many people thought the Internet would end up in our farms’ combines and tractors? Today, however, wireless connectivity in precision ag equipment is making agriculture more and more efficient. Indeed, some researchers have claimed wireless ag tech “will offer the same type of quantum leap forward for farming that GPS provided.” We are also seeing some really remarkable advancements in health care, which is now more accessible than ever before due to telemedicine and remote monitoring services powered by the Internet. These are all fundamental changes from the way we used to do things, and they’re only made possible because data is shared and transmitted online.
I look at the impact the Internet has had already on South Dakota, and I believe this is merely the beginning. That’s why I have used my position as Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee to promote policies that grow Internet connectivity and benefit consumers.
Last year, I held Congress’s first-ever hearing on the Internet of Things or “IoT.” IoT is so consequential that some call it the “third wave” of the Internet, following the fixed Internet of the 1990s and the mobile Internet of the 2000s. By now, all of us are used to having at least one or two electronic items near us that are connected to the Internet – from computers, to phones, and even our TVs. Increasingly, however, we are seeing common, everyday objects being connected online – a literal Internet of things that will soon be ubiquitous. “Things” like thermostats and refrigerators, along with those precision ag machines and health sensors I mentioned earlier. These devices unobtrusively gather data and communicate with users, and with other devices, to solve a variety of consumer and business needs.
The Internet of Things will bring significant economic benefits and drive growth in every sector of our economy. There are currently about 16 billion Internet-connected devices worldwide, and by 2020 some believe that number will be between 50 and 200 billion devices. According to McKinsey, this explosion of growth has the potential to create an economic impact of up to $6.2 trillion annually by 2025. And, as much as consumers will see IoT devices proliferate, most of the real benefit and growth will be seen in industrial, commercial, and civic applications.
The connected economy is creating massive economic and societal impacts. And this means it also presents complex policy challenges. These challenges, however, are not insurmountable obstacles. They are simply issues we need to work through together to achieve great outcomes.
Chief among these issues is the need to spread Internet connectivity to every pocket of the country for IoT and the data economy to ride on. Privacy considerations will loom large as devices collect increasing amounts of information, making privacy tradeoffs less straightforward than ever before. And as we’ve unfortunately learned with the all too many high-profile data breaches, Internet security will be paramount due to the scope and sensitivity of the data collected.
Connectivity, privacy, and security – these policy issues are central to the success of a connected economy and the growth of IoT. And sitting at the intersection of these issues in Washington is the committee I am fortunate enough to chair, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. We have engaged in a serious discussion about the government’s role in this dynamic sector of innovation.
I have counseled and urged my colleagues to tread carefully before jumping in head first to regulate IoT and other new online business models. When the Internet was in its infancy, it really began to prosper once the federal government stepped back and allowed the new technology to blossom. By treating IoT and the connected economy with a similar light touch, we can ensure that consumers and entrepreneurs are in the driver’s seat, rather than politicians and bureaucrats. If issues arise in the marketplace, policymakers should examine them closely. When doing so, we need to have the humility to recognize that the best solutions to difficult challenges created by new services are often not government solutions. But if government intervention is necessary and unavoidable, then the fixes should be as narrow and targeted as possible.
I am quite optimistic on how the economy is going to be transformed by IoT and other Internet-based technologies. But this is only possible if South Dakota and the rest of the country have fast, ubiquitous Internet connectivity. Unlike some other rural states, South Dakota is blessed to have broadband services that are often on par with more urban states. According to the National Broadband Map, 86 percent of South Dakotans have access to 25 megabit or better broadband service, which is better than Virginia and about equal to Ohio. And when it comes to the availability of gigabit connections that can really spur local economic activity, South Dakota ranks 6th in the country.
Of course, there is always room for improvement, and one of the ways Congress can help is to find ways to improve wireless broadband connectivity, including in the more rural areas of South Dakota and our reservations. For IoT to really take off, we need to make more abundant those wonderful, invisible radio waves that transmit data from one point to another, seemingly without effort. Except it’s not effortless, as many of you know. Wireless spectrum, as it is called, can be extremely expensive; the private sector spent $45 billion in the last spectrum auction. Building out wireless networks to take advantage of those airwaves requires massive private investment. And then there are the infrastructure challenges in deploying wireless broadband to rural consumers and businesses, which we know all too well.
For these reasons, I put forward legislation known as the MOBILE NOW Act to meet the communications needs of the twenty-first century. This bill has broad bipartisan and industry support and passed the Commerce Committee earlier this year. It will ensure huge swaths of spectrum are made available for commercial use by the year 2020, which is when we expect to see the next generation of ultra-high speed mobile services known as “5G.” MOBILE NOW will also cut through much of the bureaucratic red tape that makes it difficult to build wireless facilities on federal property. And the bill will facilitate inclusion of broadband-ready conduit in federally-supported highway projects, reducing the time and cost of building out Internet service.
This legislation has the potential to quietly and subtly impact all of our lives. One example comes from former Federal Communications Commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker. She pointed out that, right now, a “smart car” communicating with today’s wireless technology takes four and a half feet to brake in response to an obstacle. By contrast, a smart car with forthcoming 5G technology would travel only one inch before braking—which could literally be the difference between life and death.
Unfortunately, in what has become a story that is told all-too-often, this noncontroversial bill has gotten mired in the partisan politics of Washington, D.C. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is holding up MOBILE NOW over a dispute with other Senators about a Presidential nomination. While this gridlock jeopardizes the prospects of the bill advancing, I am not going to give up trying to push it forward. It is rare for Republicans and Democrats to come together to write truly bipartisan, pro-growth legislation, so I am going to do everything I can to see MOBILE NOW enacted into law this year.
At the end of the day, however, it is not going to be politicians and regulators who will determine what our digital future holds. It will be the entrepreneurs and the engineers and the innovators, like many of you in this room and the people you are going to hear from later this morning. You all are the ones making that digital future a reality for South Dakota. The best that the government can do is try to facilitate your success while making sure we are not accidentally standing in the way. I am excited to watch how IoT and other technologies develop over the coming years, and I am eager to do my small part in fostering their success.
GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth delivers keynote to National Contract Management Association World Congress
Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and Daimler Vans join list of automakers selling new vehicles with defective Takata airbags
WASHINGTON, D.C. – When it comes to new vehicles being sold with defective Takata airbags even luxury cars aren’t immune, according to new findings released today from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee.
Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and Daimler Vans are among the latest automakers to admit to selling new cars equipped with non-desiccated ammonium-nitrate inflators that have been linked to at least 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries in the U.S. While the automakers are legally allowed to sell the defective new vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has ordered all of them to be recalled by the end of 2018.
The specific models identified today that contain defective inflators are:
2016 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
2016 Ferrari FF
2016 Ferrari California T
2017 Ferrari California T
2016 Ferrari 488 GTB/488 Spider
2017 Ferrari 488 GTB/488 Spider
2016 Ferrari F12/F12tdf
2017 Ferrari F12/F12tdf
2017 Ferrari GTC4 Lusso
2016 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe/Convertible
2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe/Convertible
The new findings update a report Nelson released last month that found Fiat Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Volkswagen are selling new vehicles subject to the future recall. To date seven out of 17 automakers Nelson contacted have admitted to equipping new vehicles with defective Takata airbags. Tesla remains the only automaker that has not provided a written response.
“New vehicles with defective airbags cover pretty much the whole spectrum, from low-priced cars to the highest-end models,” said Nelson. “They also underscore the failure of certain automakers and regulators to level with people about the true extent of the problem and to have the cars fixed before they’re sold.”
A copy of the report update is available here.