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Mr. Ross, as a fellow Floridian, I’d like to welcome you here and congratulate you on your nomination.
I can’t promise you today’s hearing will be a piece of cake, but I’m looking forward to having a comprehensive and cordial discussion about your qualifications and how, if confirmed, you might handle many of the pressing issues you could face.
I’d like to start by acknowledging that it’s no secret you have some of the most extensive financial holdings of any past or present nominee before this committee. After reviewing your financial disclosure and ethics agreement, I want to note that it’s my understanding that you have agreed to divest the vast majority of your personal holdings and resign from nearly 50 boards and organizations. I believe that was the right thing to do and tells me you’re committed to doing the job the right way by placing the public’s interests ahead of your own.
It’s my hope President Trump will follow your lead to eliminate any business dealings that could pose potential conflicts of interest.
Mr. Ross, in recent years the Commerce Secretary post has not been one of the most sought after or appreciated positions in Washington. But I have a feeling that’s about to change in a big way.
As the President-elect has indicated, he is going to look to you and Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson to lead the administration’s trade agenda. That’s a departure from the recent past when previous commerce secretaries played much smaller roles in setting U.S. trade policy.
Given that expanded role and the incoming president’s desire to make job creation and overhauling trade deals top priorities, I hope we’ll hear more from you on the administration’s trade plans and how they will create jobs and benefit all Americans.
Additionally, I’d like for you to tell us more about how your trade duties might expand and how this could impact the role of the U.S. Trade Representative, who traditionally has taken the lead on trade negotiations.
And while we’re on the topic of protecting American workers, Mr. Ross, there’s been some who have suggested that you built your business empire on the backs of workers who lost their jobs after buying and then ultimately profiting from the sale of troubled companies. Others have lauded you for saving companies and thousands of jobs.
I think it would be most helpful to all of us on the committee if we could get an assessment from you on your record of job creation and what, if any, lessons you’ve learned that will help grow and protect American workers.
While I expect a good portion of today will be spent talking about trade, jobs and Mr. Ross’ experience, there’s lots more to the Department of Commerce.
This little department of some 47,000 employees impacts our daily lives by:
- Providing vital weather forecasts to millions of Americans though NOAA and the National Weather Service;
- Playing a huge role in building out our nation’s digital infrastructure;
- Helping grow and expand minority owned businesses; and,
- Collecting all sorts of data – including data critical to jobs and the economy, as well as monitoring environmental conditions and climate change.
That brings me to my last topic and one especially important to Florida – sea level rise and global warming.
Of Florida’s 20 million people, over 75 percent live in coastal counties, including Mr. Ross. The state’s highest point is only 345 feet above sea level.
Because of the work NOAA and other agencies are doing, we have measurements and forecasts that can tell us when a monster storm is coming.
We also have the science to know that coastal communities face peril even on sunny days because of longer-term atmospheric trends.
I know some people think climate change is a hoax.
But the data – scientifically accurate data – from weather satellites shows that it is happening.
The problem is that some folks will go to any length to deny this truth, including gaging climate scientists. That should be very troubling to us all.
So, Mr. Ross, given your personal experience of living in Florida, I hope you agree with me on the need to continue vital scientific research to inform the public about extreme weather events and trends over time. Additionally, it’s my hope we’ll get a commitment from you to not allow intimidation and censorship of climate scientists under your jurisdiction.
With that Mr. Chairman, I’d like to welcome my colleague and fellow Floridian, Senator Marco Rubio, back to the committee to introduce Mr. Ross.
Good morning, we are meeting today to consider the nomination of Mr. Wilbur Ross to be the next Secretary of Commerce. If confirmed, Mr. Ross would bring decades of business, entrepreneurial, and civic experience to this important position.
Mr. Ross is perhaps best known for his expertise in revitalizing distressed businesses, such as those in the U.S. steel industry. At a time when most investors had abandoned the industry, he organized International Steel Group in 2002 and, through acquisitions, made it the largest integrated steel company in North America. Later, it merged with Mittal Steel to form the largest steel company in the world.
Mr. Ross’s strong record of achievement in business led Bloomberg Business Week to name him one of the 50 Most Influential People in Global Finance in 2011. It is also why he is the only person elected to both the Turnaround Management Hall of Fame and the Private Equity Hall of Fame.
Mr. Ross’s business experience is complemented by his service to the community. Mr. Ross served as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and he is currently a Member of the Dean’s Advisory Board of Harvard Business School. He is also an Advisory Board Member of the Yale University School of Management, which has presented him with its Legend of Leadership Award.
Mr. Ross’s nomination comes at an important time in our nation’s economic recovery. And I believe his extensive management experience in the private sector, and his understanding of the challenges faced by workers and businesses alike, will equip him well for the job of leading the Department of Commerce.
This large department, which has 12 different bureaus and nearly 47,000 employees located in all 50 states and around the world, oversees a diverse array of issues from trade to fishery management, and from weather forecasting to the Census Bureau.
I will be asking Mr. Ross about many of the challenges facing the department and our economy. First and foremost, I will be asking how he plans to deal with trade matters as the Secretary of Commerce.
I also want to explore how, if confirmed, he would continue to play a lead role in advocating for policies that promote American innovation, like freeing up government spectrum for private use and facilitating the growing Internet of Things.
Mr. Ross’s experience turning around businesses should help him anticipate and mitigate the risks of major programs like FirstNet, the independent authority charged with creating a nationwide broadband network for first responders, and the acquisition of critical weather satellites by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Finally, I would note that collaboration between the public and private sectors is one of the hallmarks of the department’s work, as exemplified by the ongoing development of cybersecurity best practices and standards, which this Committee has strongly endorsed. Mr. Ross, should you be confirmed, we will be depending on you to continue this collaboration and strengthen it where necessary.
Mr. Ross, I believe your business know-how and intelligence make you an excellent candidate to serve as the next Secretary of Commerce, and I look forward to supporting your nomination. I will now turn to Ranking Member Nelson for any opening remarks he’d like to make.
WASHINGTON – In the wake of accusations by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that Fiat Chrysler (FCA) illegally installed software that increases harmful tailpipe emissions, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) today called on the Federal Trade Commission to explore whether the company deceptively marketed its “EcoDiesel” vehicles.
Nelson’s call for investigation comes a day after the EPA accused the company of installing illegal software that may hide pollutants in some 104,000 U.S. trucks and SUVs sold since 2014. The affected vehicles are 2014-2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks with 3.0 liter diesel engines.
The allegations made against FCA are similar to ones the EPA brought against Volkswagen in 2015 when it admitted to deliberately installing software to cheat emissions tests. Nelson called on the FTC to investigate VW’s deceptive advertising claims of being green and environmentally friendly, eventually leading to a $10 billion settlement that required the company buy back, terminate leases, or modify affected vehicles, in addition to compensating all affected consumers.
In a letter sent today to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, Nelson wrote: “If the EPA’s allegations against FCA are true, the company may be in violation of the federal law prohibiting ‘unfair or deceptive acts or practices.’ If so, the commission would be able to seek consumer redress similar to the Volkswagen settlement.”
Nelson submitted several examples to the commission of various claims FCA has recently made to market the affected vehicles:
• “Love the planet along with great fuel economy? Then the Jeep® Brand’s Diesel engine will ring true. It lets you adhere to your principles and get extra points for embracing innovative technology.” (2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee)
• “Proudly, the EcoDiesel meets and even exceeds the low emissions requirements in all 50 states.” (2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee)
• “Clean by nature” and “Clean by design” (2015 Ram 1500)
Below is the text of Nelson’s letter. A pdf of FCA “EcoDiesel” marketing materials is attached.
January 13, 2017
The Honorable Edith Ramirez Chairwoman
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Chairwoman Ramirez:
Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) installed, but failed to disclose, eight types of Auxiliary Emission Control Devices (AECDs) in approximately 104,000 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks with 3.0-liter diesel engines. According to the EPA, FCA’s failure to disclose this software, which allegedly increase nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions, is in violation of the Clean Air Act.
The allegations against FCA have a similar ring to deceptive actions taken by Volkswagen, which intentionally installed “defeat devices” in millions of vehicles worldwide to reduce tailpipe pollutants during official emissions testing. Unlike Volkswagen’s admission, FCA vociferously denies EPA’s allegations and asserts that the company has done nothing wrong.
In September 2015, I wrote a letter to you urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Volkswagen’s deceptive marketing practices of its diesel-engine vehicles. In that letter, I noted that while “the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are both exploring civil and criminal actions against Volkswagen, respectively, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also has an appropriate role in investigating the company’s actions.” In June 2016, the FTC announced a settlement with Volkswagen in which the automaker agreed to spend over $10 billion to compensate affected consumers.
Once again, I urge the commission to play an active role in the ongoing investigation of FCA and to act accordingly on behalf of American consumers.
As I noted in my September 2015 letter and as reflected in your settlement with Volkswagen, “[t]he commission can seek consumer redress for Volkswagen’s deception, and it can also seek a full panoply of equitable remedies that would force Volkswagen to take actions to specifically address consumer harm.” If the EPA’s allegations against FCA are true, the company may be in violation of the federal law prohibiting “unfair or deceptive acts or practices.” If so, the commission would be able to seek consumer redress similar to the Volkswagen settlement. Attached are examples of FCA’s marketing materials for certain “EcoDiesel” vehicles, which, among others, claim to be “clean by nature,” for consumers who “Love the planet,” and to have “low emissions.”
As the nation’s premier and independent consumer protection agency, the FTC can once again be an additional cop on the beat that uniquely looks out for average Americans who may have been harmed by deceptive corporate practices. As it did in the Volkswagen scandal, I urge the commission to appropriately exercise all of its authority on behalf of American consumers.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson issued the following statement in response to the indictments of three Takata executives for concealing defects in the companies airbag inflators:
“Companies have a responsibility to ensure the products they make are safe for consumers,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee. “These indictments send a strong message that if company executives knowingly put deadly products on the market, they will held accountable for their actions.”
Nelson unveiled a report last February that found widespread manipulation of airbag inflator test data by Takata employees, with some occurring after the recalls began.
Mr. Chairman, I want to take a minute to express my condolences to the friends and loved ones of the victims of Friday’s horrific shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
I also want to thank the heroic work that was undertaken by first responders and law enforcement personnel in responding to this shooting.
Although the investigation remains ongoing, I expect all of us here in Congress to continue exploring ways to protect the traveling public in light of this tragic incident. While we made some progress in last year’s FAA bill to double the number of K-9 teams and bolster the screening of airport workers, this shooting serves as reminder that our work to improve airport security remains a constant challenge and is far from complete. This year’s FAA reauthorization bill could be a good place to start if more needs to be done to prevent similar tragedies from occurring.
Mr. Chairman, we are here today at a time when our nation is at a crossroads.
Many of our roads, bridges, tunnels and rails are aging and desperately need to be repaired or replaced.
Years of neglect and increased demand have brought us to a point where we can no longer sit idly by and watch our country’s most critical infrastructure continue to deteriorate.
We must step up to the challenge. We must commit to build the next generation of great American infrastructure or risk harming our economy and global competitiveness by failing to do so.
That means investing in projects that will move people and goods for decades to come, such a
- • Ports – like those in my state of Florida that are responsible for moving goods in and out of our country
- • Rails and highways that move those goods throughout our states
- • Transit and rail projects that get Americans to work
- • Airports and passenger rail projects that connect our communities, and
- • Technologies of tomorrow that will move people and goods more efficiently and more safely.
These projects will also create good paying jobs – whether it’s the construction worker laying the foundation for a new project, an engineer doing the design work, or the steel worker making the parts.
The benefits of updating and expanding our transportation infrastructure can produce thunderous ripple effects – creating new developments, generating increased investments, and driving new economic opportunities.
This is what our country needs now and for the future. But it takes a strong commitment from Congress and the administration, and it will take a significant amount of funding.
Secretary Chao, I hope we’ll hear more from you today on the incoming administration’s plan and how you intend to pay for it.
Our nation’s transportation challenges include more than deteriorating roads and bridges. Safety continues to be a serious problem across all of our transportation sectors.
The last two years marked a continuing and disturbing trend of rising fatalities on our highways, reversing the significant progress we’ve seen over a half century.
The department must aggressively use all of its authority and resources to bring these numbers down, whether its cracking down on drunk and distracted driving, increasing seatbelt use, or getting defective vehicles – such as those with exploding Takata airbags – fixed immediately.
And the department must also prepare for the future. As I speak, automakers are rapidly moving toward commercializing autonomous technology and self-driving cars. The department must play a central role in ensuring that this technology is truly safe for the American public.
Aviation safety is also critical.
An important task before the committee this year is FAA reauthorization, which is currently set to expire on September 30, 2017.
Chairman Thune and I worked hard on a bipartisan and comprehensive FAA reauthorization bill last year, which passed the Senate by 95 to 3.
Unfortunately, our reauthorization bill stalled in the House given a proposal there to privatize Air Traffic Control (ATC) services.
Besides being costly and disruptive in implementation, such a privatization scheme would upset the partnership between the FAA and the Department of Defense, which provides 15 to 20 percent of ATC services in this country.
Last, but certainly not least Secretary Chao, I hope we’ll get a commitment from you that you’ll look out for the traveling public by ensuring they have basic consumer protections. This means working with us in Congress to make sure that airline passengers know what they are paying for upfront and that these costs are fair. These provisions had broad bipartisan support in last year’s FAA reauthorization bill, and we should get them across the finish line this year.
I look forward to hearing from you, especially about your plans to invest in our country’s future and ensure a safe transportation system for all.
“The general practice of the Senate Commerce Committee has been to require complete applications on candidates for Senate confirmation before holding a hearing. While Mr. Ross has submitted his responses to the committee’s questionnaire, we have not yet received the ethics agreement he is working on with the Office of Government Ethics and the Department of Commerce to finalize. In this instance, especially given that the committee will be proceeding with the hearing for another key cabinet appointment tomorrow, we have agreed to postpone Thursday’s hearing until January 18, so that ethics officials have additional time to complete their work and provide relevant information to the committee. We both remain committed to fair consideration of Mr. Ross’ nomination.”
Ross’s nomination questionnaire is available here.
I want to welcome everyone to the Commerce Committee’s first hearing of the 115th Congress, especially our new members, Senators Inhofe, Lee, Capito, Young, Baldwin, Duckworth, Hassan [Hass-uhn], and Cortez Masto. In addition to growing in size, our Committee now has the proud distinction of being the Senate Committee with the most women members ever, at eight.
I also would like to thank all of our returning members, especially Ranking Member Nelson, for their hard work last Congress. Together, we were able to enact over 60 measures in the 114th Congress. I am anticipating another full agenda this Congress, and I am confident that we’ll be equally successful.
Today we will consider the nomination of Secretary Elaine Chao to be the 18th Secretary of Transportation.
The agency Secretary Chao has been nominated to lead plays a vital role in facilitating and promoting the safe and efficient movement of goods and people throughout our country and the world. The Department contains 10 component agencies, employs over 57,000 full time employees, and has an operating budget of $75 billion.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the transportation sector employs over 12 million people nationwide and contributes nearly $1.4 trillion to the nation’s economy, or 8.6 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. In my home state of South Dakota, this translates into approximately 10,000 jobs. But, these numbers only begin to tell the story, because so much of our economy is dependent on a thriving transportation sector.
For example, without a robust and efficient transportation sector, rural states like mine would be unable to get their goods to market. Increasing the capacity and efficiency of our nation’s highways, rail lines, pipelines, and ports is crucial, and will have to be a top priority for the next Secretary of Transportation.
Another top priority for the next Secretary of Transportation must be safety. While our nation’s pipelines, railroads, airways, and highways have a strong record of safety, improvements can and should be made. Of course, it will be important to avoid one-size-fits all solutions on safety. Instead, the Department must offer a range of tools to combat unique safety challenges, as South Dakota has done with its innovative 24/7 sobriety program to combat impaired driving.
Many of the strong safety improvements this Committee advanced as part of the FAST Act and PIPES Act last Congress are yet to be implemented, and we will expect our next Secretary of Transportation to work with us to ensure speedy implementation. We will also have the opportunity to collaborate on safety improvements when we revisit the authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration later this year.
The next Secretary of Transportation will also have a unique opportunity to show federal leadership in the advancement of transportation innovation. V2V technology, autonomous vehicles, and unmanned aircraft systems, to name a few, have great promise to increase safety, improve efficiency, and spur economic growth.
But, like all new technologies, these must be properly integrated into our current networks in a way that maximizes their benefits without compromising the performance of the current systems.
Secretary Chao, if confirmed, you will have a momentous opportunity to transform Americans’ transportation network by promoting safety and innovation, growing our nation’s freight network, and ensuring all users – both rural and urban –benefit equally.
To my colleagues, I would say that, if you were to imagine an ideal candidate to tackle these challenges, it would be hard to come up with a more qualified nominee than the one before us. In addition to serving for eight years as the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Secretary Chao has also served as the Deputy Secretary of the department she’s now been tapped to lead. Her extensive experience also includes leading the United Way of America, the Peace Corps, and the Federal Maritime Commission.
Secretary Chao, you have consistently proven your willingness to roll up your sleeves and address the challenges facing our nation. I would like to thank you for testifying today and for your willingness to continue your record of service to the country.
I will now turn to Ranking Member Nelson for any opening remarks and then, before Secretary Chao’s opening statement, she will be introduced by her husband Senator McConnell and the other member of the Kentucky delegation, Senator Paul.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) issued the following statement on President Obama's re-nomination of the FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel:
“This was the right thing to do,” said Nelson. “Hopefully, Senate GOP leaders will finally live up to their promise to confirm her.”