Construction Industry News
Thank you Mr. Chairman, and thank you for working on these two important pieces of legislation, and having another mark-up in the committee. I want to first thank our staffs for working so hard and diligently through the night last night to finalize these two pieces of legislation, and again, as you mentioned last mark-up, they do an excellent job and we so much appreciate everybody’s collaboration on getting these important issues addressed.
I also want to thank Senators Sullivan and Markey today for their work related to the Coast Guard bill. We are just a few days away from celebrating the Coast Guard Day on August 4th, and this is a great piece of legislation to help in celebrating that. I appreciate Senator Markey’s work on the commercial fishing vessel safety part of this legislation, Senator Baldwin’s great lakes icebreaker authorization, Senator Peters’ oil spill improvements in Lake Michigan, Senator Blumenthal’s sexual assault prevention and support of the academy that is part of this legislation.
In the state of Washington we have a proud maritime heritage, so the Coast Guard is an integral part of our community, and this legislation moves the ball forward on important priorities, as the chair mentioned, for the men and women that work for the Coast Guard. We found out that the Coast Guard has one of the first paid family leave programs in the nation, and that was because the Coast Guard determined – with 40 percent of their work force being women – that they wanted to continue to promote them up the ranks, that they better figure out how to do a paid leave program. So this legislation continues to improve on that in several ways.
I also want to thank the chairman for this important legislation, which I believe is a milestone in the recognition that we are an Arctic nation. I believe that the Arctic is a national security issue. If we want ships to pass through the Arctic as other countries do – because it is a cheaper, faster way from Asia to Europe – and we want to have access to that in an untold way, and we want fishing and environmental issues to be addressed, we too need to recognize that we need an icebreaking fleet. So this legislation formally authorizes three new heavy icebreakers and three new medium icebreakers for the first time. I think this is a giant step forward in recognizing that we are an Arctic nation, and we plan to participate in the Northwest Passage.
I look forward to the work that will be done on other pieces of important legislation here, particularly in Puget Sound, and the need to protect the southern resident orcas. That is why this legislation moves the needle on orca conservation – in a better way to protect southern resident orcas in Puget Sound, it creates a pilot program based on successful pilot programs in Vancouver, British Columbia, to reduce the impact of vessel noise from large ships, and it also requires an assessment and recommendation to improve Coast Guard efforts to enforce vessel traffic buffer zones in Puget Sound.
Also, we know that it’s important for our communities to continue to improve safety, and that is why this bill requires a GAO study to make recommendations regarding tsunami vertical evacuation infrastructure needs. So much of Washington’s coast is populated by communities that don’t have the resources to prepare to the response, and so this bill will help in providing resources to make sure communities are planning for such an event.
The bill also, as the chairman mentioned, helps in the recruitment, retainment, and investment in women in the Coast Guard workforce, and even though the Coast Guard Academy is almost 40 percent women, the Coast Guard as a whole is only 15 percent, so we need to invest in recruiting and keeping this talent, and this bill will help take a major step forward. Also, the bill invests in vital child care facilities for the Coast Guard, and we so appreciate working across the aisle to make this part of the legislation.
Finally, the bill includes critical improvements to oil spill response and prevention. It responds to oil spill in the future, it mandates a requirement to update the U.S. research plan to improve oil spill response and prevention over ten years, and requires research and technology evaluation for all classes of oil, because the Coast Guard needs to be an expert on the technology that is needed if such a catastrophic event happens. So I want to again thank all the men and women who serve in the Coast Guard, thank Chairman Wicker, Senator Sullivan, and Senator Markey for working in such a bipartisan fashion on this bill.
Now, on the Pipelines Act, I too want to applaud the work of Senator Fischer and Senator Duckworth on this important legislation. Senator Duckworth’s contributions, not just as the ranking member, but increasing state grants for pipeline safety particularly, addressing the PHMSA workforce capacity issues, just strengthening what we need to do in this important area. I also thank the chairman for working on this issue, and I know at times provided some challenging issues for us to work through, but this year marks the 20th anniversary of a major pipeline explosion in Bellingham, Washington, where a series of negligent failures led to a spill of 237,000 gallons of gasoline and tragically claimed the lives of three young people.
So in response Congress, led by this committee, passed the Pipeline Safety Act of 2002 to strengthen regulation and improve pipeline safety. In last September, in Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts, systematic failures caused fires in three towns and killed a young man. So now this committee must act again to improve pipeline safety. The Pipes Act of 2019 contains important provisions by Senator Markey’s Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act, which will keep all our families and neighborhoods safer.
I also want to thank Senators Udall and Blumenthal for important issues raised in the amendments they filed for this bill. Leaky natural gas pipes pose a significant hazard, and are major contributors to global warming, so we should be requiring the use of the latest technology to detect and prevent methane leaks from these pipes. I am pleased that we were able to come to some agreement with Senator Udall’s gas-gathering lines amendment, and many of the unregulated gathering lines effectively pose the same risks as the regulated lines, so this amendment that is incorporated directs the Department of Transportation in finishing its gathering line rulemaking in a timely manner.
And I’d also like to see issues such as whistleblower civil penalties addressed before the Senate sees final passage of this legislation onto the House. So again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for working on two very important issues to all of America, and I thank my colleagues for working so diligently to resolve the last remaining issues.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thanks for holding this important hearing on the next steps for Positive Train Control implementation. I want to thank the panel of witnesses and we look forward to hearing your perspective on how railroads will meet that deadline of 2020 to fully implement PTC.
The importance of this life-saving technology was made abundantly clear in my state of Washington, December 2017, when the Amtrak Cascade 501 derailed around a bend near DuPont, Washington, and fell into the highway before claiming three lives and injuring 65 people. The National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that PTC would have prevented this tragedy, but sadly this is just one of many PTC-preventable tragedies. In fact, since the National Transportation Safety Board first recommended Positive Train Control implementation, PTC could have prevented over 150 different crashes, and many fatalities and injuries.
So I’m pleased that Chairman Wicker shares my commitment to making sure that 2020 is a full PTC implementation deadline, and that this committee takes its oversight role seriously when it comes to Positive Train Control. It’s unacceptable that in the year of 2019 we still have not fully implemented this important safety, and even when PTC has been fully implemented, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, there will still be miles of tracks that have not been part of PTC. They will be exempted, including over 1,400 miles of track used by Amtrak.
Both the NTSB and Amtrak expressed concerns about this during a previous committee hearing last month, and we followed up that hearing to seek more information from FRA about the safety measures that should be in place where PTC is not operational. This include speed limit action plans, adequate crew training, and PTC equivalent technologies. I want to thank Administrator Batory for the FRA response sent to my letter, and for your commitment to ensuring safety everywhere that Amtrak operates. This will help prevent another DuPont, Washington accident from happening again.
Even with PTC in place, we have to continue to prioritize safety. No technology is a cure-all, or a complete replacement for well-trained engineers and conductors who have strong safety cultures at a railroad, and for the track maintenance and the structurally-sound railroad cars that are needed. That said, implementing PTC is truly a major step forward for safety, and I know it has been a long time coming to get where we are today.
Railroads, and especially commuter railroad systems, have faced many challenges, so I look forward to the opportunity to hear from the witnesses about the steps to have PTC fully implemented everywhere, and to make sure it is required on our national rail system. And, look forward to asking specific questions about that implementation and the 1,400 miles of track that won’t be covered.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today lauded the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2019 for its commitment not only to Coast Guard women but to the children and families of women who serve our country.
“The bill also helps in the recruitment, retainment, and investment in women in the Coast Guard workforce,” Senator Cantwell said. “Even though the Coast Guard Academy is almost 40 percent women, the Coast Guard as a whole is only 15 percent, so we need to invest in recruiting and keeping this talent, and this bill will help take a major step forward. Also, the bill invests in vital child care facilities for the Coast Guard, and we so appreciate working across the aisle to make this part of the legislation.”
Ranking Member Cantwell’s legislation makes significant improvements to the services needed to recruit, retain and invest in women in the Coast Guard workforce, addressing the significant problems retaining skilled female Coasties indicated by the statistics on women in the service.
The bill takes aim at this issue by improving access to child care for Coast Guard members and their families. The legislation includes a pilot program to expand access to child care, a comprehensive study on Coast Guard child care needs, and expanded opportunities for Coast Guard spouses to start their own in-home child care centers.
The bill also ensures timely and full implementation of the RAND Coast Guard Women’s Retention Study. This section of the bill would require the establishment of a National Coast Guard Women’s Leadership Committee to advise the Commandant on the RAND study implementation plan and on women’s issues at large. It would also create an Advisory Committee on Women’s Leadership at the Coast Guard Academy to reach women early in their Coast Guard Careers and improve their access to leadership training, mentorship, and engagement.
Taking care of Coast Guard members and their families has been a long-term priority for Senator Cantwell. In 2015, she passed an amendment to the Coast Guard authorization to make sure Coast Guard mothers received the same amount of maternity leave as their counterparts in other branches. In 2017, she wrote a letter to the then-Coast Guard Commandant advocating for an expansion of family leave policies to include benefits for same-sex couples, dual military couples, and adoptive parents. And in last year’s Coast Guard authorization, she secured provisions to strengthen paid family leave for Coast Guard members and their families.
Good morning and welcome to the Commerce Committee’s eighth executive session of the 116th Congress. Before we turn to today’s agenda, I want to highlight the work this committee has done to bring two major bills to a vote today.
The Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2019, sponsored by Senator Sullivan, reflects several months of bipartisan work to support the Coast Guard’s broad mission to ensure the safety and security of our nation’s waters.
The bill would:
- Authorize funding for Coast Guard operations and critical shipbuilding programs such as the National Security Cutter and Polar Security Cutter Icebreaker;
- Include the “Pay Our Coast Guard Act” to protect pay and benefits for Coast Guard members and their families should a future lapse in appropriations occur;
- Address numerous personnel reforms to help the Coast Guard attract and retain the best and brightest talent;
- Ensure that the Coast Guard takes advantage of the latest in technology to accomplish its missions by streamlining the acquisition system, focusing on testing unmanned systems, and starting a pilot program to test commercial satellites to combat illegal fishing;
- Support our Coast Guard families through a child care title authored by Ranking Member Cantwell. Her contributions to this bill would give Congress a better understanding of child care and family support requirements and ensure that Child Development Centers are inspected. Our Coast Guard families deserve nothing less than access to high-quality child care; and
- Lastly, the bill would make a number of common-sense reforms to maritime law to make operating safer for our recreational boaters and fisherman.
We have a responsibility to pass this important legislation, and I look forward to advancing the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act during this session.
Today we also consider the “Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2019.”
I would like to thank Senators Fischer and Duckworth for working on a bipartisan basis to introduce this bill to reauthorize the Department of Transportation’s pipeline safety program, which is administered by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
This legislation would provide the necessary resources and tools to improve pipeline safety further, which is a top priority of this committee.
This bill would:
- Provide a four-year authorization for PHMSA’s pipeline safety program with greater resources allocated to state and local pipeline safety officials;
- Allow PHMSA to conduct pilot programs to evaluate innovative pipeline safety technologies;
- Provide greater congressional oversight on pending PHMSA rulemakings;
- Direct PHMSA to update its current regulations for large-scale liquefied natural gas, or LNG, facilities; and
- Establish an LNG Center of Excellence to promote and facilitate safety, education, training, and technological advancements for LNG operations.
In light of recent events, this bill also includes several safety-related provisions addressing distribution gas pipeline systems.
Today’s markup of the PIPES Act of 2019 is the first major step toward final passage to reauthorize PHMSA’s pipeline safety program as we continue to advance the safety of our pipeline transportation network.
I look forward to working with the members of this committee to pass this bipartisan bill.
With that, I turn to my friend and Ranking Member, Senator Cantwell, for any remarks she may have.
Today’s hearing will evaluate progress on implementation of positive train control (PTC) and discuss any potential challenges in meeting the final implementation deadline of December 31, 2020. As recent Committee hearings have highlighted, PTC is an important technology that has the ability to prevent accidents, including over-speed derailments, such as the tragic derailment in DuPont, Washington in 2017, as well as preventing train-to-train collisions.
PTC Enforcement and Implementation Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in October 2015, required railroads to implement PTC by December 31, 2018, however it allowed a railroad to apply for an extension of up to 24 months if, and only if, a railroad met important milestones.
I am pleased to say that under Secretary Chao and Administrator Batory’s leadership, this framework has been faithfully implemented as of December 31, 2018, all railroads required to implement PTC by the deadline either submitted documentation to show that they met the requirements for system activation or qualified for an extension for up to two additional years to complete full implementation. As we will hear today, many railroads received such an extension. Since that December 2018 deadline, railroads have continued to make progress on PTC implementation.
This hearing provides an opportunity for updates on the current status of PTC implementation across the network and the gains that have been made since the end of last year. Witnesses should discuss how freight and passenger railroads are implementing PTC and describe the remaining work needed to achieve full implementation.
Full PTC implementation requires, among other things, that railroads be interoperable or, in other words, they must be able to operate seamlessly across tracks owned by different railroads. Achieving interoperability requires coordination across the rail industry, including between the Federal Railroad Administration, host railroads, tenant railroads, vendors and suppliers, and other stakeholders. This undertaking is particularly complex in regions of this country where multiple railroads interact.
I hope witnesses will provide an update on interoperability testing and any successes or challenges identified through such testing. I also invite our expert witnesses to discuss any suggestions they have for further facilitating interoperability throughout the network.
With the final deadline for implementation less than a year and a half away, today’s hearing will help this committee focus on any other issues that require additional attention. For instance, at past PTC hearings, we heard about challenges related to vendors and software, as well as railroads in the early stages of field testing.
So, I invite our witness to update the Committee on the availability of vendors to support PTC installation and provide testing services. Witnesses might also identify any other challenges to full implementation as the final deadline approaches.
I look forward to a robust discussion of the progress of PTC implementation. I thank all of our witnesses for appearing today.
Senator Maria Cantwell, the Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today issued the following statement regarding the agreement between major automakers and the state of California on fuel economy standards.
“I am glad to see that a voluntary agreement has been struck between automakers and the state of California on fuel economy standards. This collaborative approach will avoid a lengthy court battle and move us forward with a plan to save families money, reduce greenhouse emissions, and allow America to better compete in the race to build the cars of the future. To that end, I am working on a bill in the Commerce Committee to codify a uniform set of standards for the country that will promote the production of clean and efficient cars and give automakers the certainty they need as they compete in the global marketplace.”
Today U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, issued the following statement regarding the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) settlement with Facebook.
“This decision underscores the need for strong privacy legislation. When companies betray the public trust, there must be immediate and significant consequences. We need a strong data privacy bill to ensure that the Commission has the tools it needs to protect privacy—including the authority to levy fines on the first offense.”
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a nominations hearing at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 24, 2019 to consider presidential nominations to the National Transportation Safety Board, Federal Maritime Commission, Amtrak Board of Directors, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Department of Commerce.
Click here for additional information on nominees.
- The Honorable Todd Rokita, of Indiana, to be a Director of the Amtrak Board of Directors
- The Honorable Jennifer Homendy, of Virginia, to be a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board
- Mr. Carl Bentzel, of Maryland, to be a Commissioner of the Federal Maritime Commission
- Mr. Michael Graham, of Kansas, to be a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board
- Mr. Michael Kratsios, of South Carolina, to be an Associate Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy
- Mr. Ian Paul Steff, of Indiana, to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Director General of the United States and Foreign Commercial Service
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
This hearing will take place in the Hart Senate Office Building 216. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
Thank you Mr. Chairman and thanks for that briefing on the bipartisan nature of the committee to date, and our continued work on trying to move privacy legislation in the future. I’m pleased that there are eleven bills on today’s agenda, and several nominations and Coast Guard promotions. I’m pleased that we are marking up the HOT CAR legislation that you’ve been a leader in in the past, and that we have taken action here to make sure that we’re moving a good bipartisan bill in the future, and I commend Senator Blumenthal for working on that legislation. I’m also happy to see the STEM Careers Act, because it’s such an important issue in the state of Washington with a record number of veterans and ways in which aerospace industry jobs can further go to veterans for the future. Likewise, the Composite Standards Act that our colleagues are promoting is also excellent legislation, in helping with Capito and Peters to promote something that is already a cost-effective source of designing for aerospace and for cars, now can look for ways to be a good source for transportation infrastructure investment. Also, I’d like to voice my strong support for the Great Lakes Environmental Sensitivity Act. We need to protect this great treasure that is part of the Midwest, and I certainty support our colleagues who have pushed this legislation here in the committee – Senator Peters and Senator Young. We need to protect our national treasures, and this Great Lakes legislation will help us do that.
I also support the Schultz nomination. Today Michelle Schultz is a member of the Surface Transportation Board. She’s already been favorably voted out of this committee, and I hope that she will be paired with a nominee on the floor so that we can have a full slate of confirmed nominees for this important job.
When it comes to the Dickson nomination, Mr. Chairman – we had a hearing on Mr. Dickson, and I think it was very clear from all the aviation hearings we’ve had today that safety is our top priority. I know that Mr. Dickson, at his hearing, did not discuss these issues, and it was after the hearing that we received considerable information from a whistleblower about activities that happened during Mr. Dickson’s time at Delta Airlines, since he was in charge of the flight safety regimen. A whistleblower, that just happens to reside in the State of Washington, brought forth various concerns to then Mr. Dickson and to the organization in the wake of A330 flights, the Air France flight and Qantas flight, that basically had had malfunctions, and in the Air France case, caused an accident that killed many people.
As an A330 pilot, my constituent brought numerous concerns to the forefront of the Delta organization – because of the level of automation and lack of pilot training that may have existed and caused concerns about the A330 incidents. But instead of those concerns being brought forward in recommendations to the organization, instead this pilot was retaliated against. And I don’t mean a general retaliation, I mean an absurd retaliation – a retaliation in which she was sent to a psychiatrist who then claimed, just because she juggled marriage, children, and being a pilot, that somehow she must be manic. And she was, because of that action by Delta, removed from flying, even though she had been a pilot for many years – decades. Well thankfully, the reinstatement through the normal legal process of the ALPA process for pilots and the FAA, this pilot was recertified to fly by other psychiatrists who did not find her to be manic, but actually voicing safety concerns.
Now this, in and of itself, may have been enough to say that Mr. Dickson either didn’t know about this or didn’t participate, but since our investigation it is very clear that Mr. Dickson did know, was involved with this pilot, did know what was happening, and failed to disclose it to this committee. Our committee routinely asks about whether people are involved in legal disputes; he failed to mention this very prominent case that Delta was involved in. Now it could be that he simply forgot, but as the committee has searched for more information on Mr. Dickson on this, he has made it clear he thinks the handling of the situation was just fine.
Well I know this, that the A330 incidents, and the Max incidents on the Boeing planes, all mean that we are entering a new era of aviation, where automation and pilot training need to have further scrutiny, and certainly, certainly, more transparency. We certainly can’t have organizations who threaten pilots with this kind of retaliation to actually stop them from flying when in reality they are just reporting what they think are the needed improvements to a safety management system. That is why this nomination is also been objected to by Captain Sullenberger, who has come to the aid of this whistleblower to simply say: pilots have to be listened to.
So I hope our colleagues will take this issue seriously, look into the case of this whistleblower, and the fact that the lack of transparency before this committee about this egregious issue has not been given its due. Therefore I cannot support Mr. Dickson’s nomination, and I ask my colleagues to also not support his nomination.