During the Executive Session, Committee members will consider the following legislation and nominations:
• S. 2889, Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2009
• S. 554, Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2009
• S. 1562, Arctic Ocean Research and Science Policy Review Act of 2009
• S. 1609, Longline Catcher Processor Subsector Single Fishery Cooperative Act
• S. 2852, Renewable Energy Environmental Research Act of 2009
• S. 2856, the International Fisheries Agreement Clarification Act
• S. 2859, Coral Reef Conservation Amendments Act of 2009
• S. 583, Building a Stronger America Act
• H.R. 3819, the Commercial Space Launch Indemnification Extension
• *Nomination of Julie Simone Brill to be a Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (PN 1180)
• *Nomination of Edith Ramirez to be a Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (PN 1181)
• *Nomination of David L. Strickland to be Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation (PN 1249)
• *Nomination of Nicole Y. Lamb-Hale to be Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing and Services, U.S. Department of Commerce (PN 1197)
• *Nomination of Michael A. Khouri to be a Commissioner of the Federal Maritime Commission (PN 1231)
• Nomination for Promotion in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps (PN 1262)
• Nominations for Promotion in the United States Coast Guard (PN 911, PN 1186 and PN 1263)
*Subject to December 15, 2009 Confirmation Hearing.
Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid or service, including closed captioning service for webcast hearings, should contact Naomi Eskin at 202-224-5115 at least three business days in advance of the hearing date.
Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV
WASHINGTON, D.C.--Good morning, I know members wish to speak on various bills, and I will be happy to give everyone an opportunity to speak after the bills have been adopted.
We will begin by considering the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2009.
I will make a longer statement about the bill in just a moment but I want say, this has been many years in the making and I am extremely proud to say we are marking it up today.
We will also consider S. 554, the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2009, sponsored by Senator Brown and Senator Hutchison.
This bill would require new safety devices on motorcoaches, more driver training and testing, increased safety oversight of bus companies, and rules for drivers using distracting devices, such as cell phones.
While today’s bill is a good start — and I will support it — I look forward to working with Senator Lautenberg to make additional safety improvements as the process moves forward.
S. 1562, the Arctic Ocean Research and Science Policy Review Act of 2009 will help develop a roadmap to improve our understanding of the Arctic Ocean.
This is very important to global climate and weather patterns, ocean circulation, fisheries, and the people who rely on its resources.
S. 1609, the Longline Catcher Processor Subsector Single Fishery Cooperative Act would authorize the establishment of a single fishery cooperative for the Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher processor commercial fishing fleet.
This legislation would empower commercial fishermen, make safety a priority and provide more financial certainty and stability for fishermen in the cooperative.
S. 2856, the International Fisheries Agreement Clarification Act would clarify certain provisions in the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) dealing with the management of US fisheries under international agreements.
I also want to say that I support this bill, and have included it on today’s agenda at Senator Snowe’s request, understanding that Committee staff will continue working to address minor technical concerns raised by NOAA.
S. 2852, the Renewable Energy Environmental Research Act of 2009 recognizes that we need sound atmospheric and oceanic information in order to increase renewable energy development and, most importantly, reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a tremendously critical role to play in providing this research and I commend Senators Begich and Snowe for introducing this bill.
We will also consider S. 2859, Senator Inouye’s Coral Reef Conservation Amendments Act of 2009.
Coral Reefs support thriving fisheries, tourism, and natural product industries; but pollution and overfishing are harming them.
Our world’s reefs are the bedrock of our Blue Economy and we must conserve and manage them carefully.
S. 583, The Building a Stronger America Act is also up for consideration. This bill recognizes the tremendous potential of our research parks to accelerate economic growth, promote competitiveness, and create jobs.
This is important legislation in my own state and I am pleased we are considering it here today.
Senator Pryor’s bill guarantees loans to support critical construction of research parks, I support it and the substitute amendment.
And last but certainly not least, HR 3819, the Commercial Space Launch Indemnification Extension. Since 1984, the federal government has provided commercial space launch providers with liability protection for catastrophic events. This has been extended four times, and the latest expires this month.
Normally I do not support indemnifying the private sector for liability, but I recognize that our commercial space industry needs this federal protection in order to compete with others around the globe.
Today’s legislation extends that liability protection for another three years into December 2012 and I expect we will reassess the market before that time to see if the commercial space industry is ready to assume full risk and responsibility.
The Committee will also consider a number of nominations today. We have a full plate:
• Julie Simone Brill to be a Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (PN 1180)
• Edith Ramirez to be a Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (PN 1181)
• David L. Strickland to be Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation (PN 1249)
• Nicole Y. Lamb-Hale to be Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing and Services, U.S. Department of Commerce (PN 1197)
• Michael A. Khouri to be a Commissioner of the Federal Maritime Commission (PN 1231)
• As well as Nominations for Promotion in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps (PN 1262)
• And Nominations for Promotion in the United States Coast Guard (PN 911, PN 1186 and PN 1263)
I will work with Senator Hutchison to make sure the Senate moves as quickly as possible on these important nominations.
So with all that, I now want to turn to Senator Hutchison for her opening remarks, and then call on other Members who would like to speak.
Thank you all very much. Senator Hutchison.
Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison
WASHINGTON, D.C.--Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Today we are considering several important pieces of legislation, including the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2009 and the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2009. I am very pleased to have played a role in the development of both of these measures and that we are able to report them today.
Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2009
We have been working on the STB reauthorization and reform measure for the past year, and I am delighted that we finally have been able to reach a bipartisan consensus to get us to this point. Several of us have introduced our own STB proposals over the years—I had introduced reform bills going back 10 years ago, and Chairman Rockefeller and Senator Dorgan have had bills going back just as far.
The fact that we were all able to work together to develop this legislative compromise is largely due to the Chairman’s leadership and determination, and he is to be commended. One of the first things he did when he became Chairman was reach out to me, and to Senator Lautenberg and Senator Thune, the leaders of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee, to discuss working together on this bill. We all agreed to do so, with a shared goal to develop legislation that helps to address rail shipper concerns, while also taking into consideration the needs of the rail industry and the importance of maintaining a viable national freight rail network. I believe our bill meets those goals and does so in a fair and balanced way.
The last thing we want is to turn back the clock to pre-Staggers when the railroads were bankrupt and safety and service were both suffering. But, continued inaction and failure to improve and strengthen the STB also poses risks. The status quo is not an acceptable option!
This bill isn’t perfect. It is a product of long negotiations and all have had to compromise. It is important to recognize that we haven’t been able to reach an agreement on any STB legislation since the STB was established by the ICC Termination Act of 1995—nearly 15 years. So clearly, the fact that we will report this bipartisan consensus bill today is a real victory for not only shippers, but also for industry, because of the balance it strikes.
In particular, I want to mention the new arbitration feature we have provided in this legislation, which is a concept I have long supported and one that was included in my STB bills when I was Chairman of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee. I think all of us have heard frustrations about the STB, including that it is really not accessible to smaller shippers, in part because they may not be able to afford numerous lawyers and what can be millions of dollars and many years to challenge a rate. We have really worked to craft the arbitration provision so that no shipper feels he or she does not have an avenue to raise a legitimate complaint and seek a remedy through the STB.
The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2009
This is a great day for the bus-traveling public, Mr. Chairman, because you agreed to make bus safety a priority for this Committee, and I thank you. I also want to thank Senator Lautenberg and Senator Pryor, and of course, Senator Brown, for their help in moving this bill forward. And I want to recognize Senator Boxer’s co-sponsorship of this legislation as well.
I first introduced this bill with Senator Brown in 2007, in response to a number of serious accidents that resulted in fatalities and called into question the safety of both the vehicles and the drivers. Half of all motorcoach fatalities over the past 10 years have occurred as a result of rollovers, and 70 percent of the individuals killed were ejected from the bus.
That is why we just shouldn’t wait any longer to fix the many issues that we know need to be addressed to improve bus safety, such as requiring safety belts and improved roof strength and crush resistance standards, and driver testing improvements. In fact, for years, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has called for many of the provisions included in this legislation.
I have developed a substitute amendment based on input from stakeholders, including NHTSA, FMCSA, the motorcoach industry, the Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety, and also the families of victims of accidents, who have very strong and heartfelt views on the need to strengthen bus safety. The substitute amendment updates the bill to reflect more recent NTSB safety recommendations and DOT’s new Motorcoach Safety Action Plan, which was announced last month.
Specifically, the legislation before us would require NHTSA to issue regulations within one year of enactment to address the major causes of rollovers and rollover fatalities, including a requirement that passenger seats in motorcoaches, for the first time, be equipped with seat belts.
I would also like to mention what I think is a groundbreaking provision that is supported by both the industry and the safety community. The revised legislation would require every new motorcoach company to undergo a comprehensive, on-site pre-authorization safety audit before it could begin operating.
This extra step, which does not exist today, would ensure that companies are prepared to comply with federal safety requirements; that their drivers hold valid commercial licenses; and that their vehicles have been properly inspected. It would also help stop “reincarnated” carriers – carriers that are taken out of service and then quickly begin operating under a new name. This was one of many safety issues in the 2008 Sherman, Texas, accident that claimed 17 lives.
I am very pleased we are reporting this important bill without further delay. I know Senator Lautenberg will be discussing an amendment that he feels very strongly about, and I hope that we can agree to hold off on considering his amendment, which affects the entire truck industry—about 3 million trucks and over 500,000 trucking companies-- until we address the more comprehensive motor carrier issues awaiting action as part of the reauthorization of the NHTSA and FMCSA safety programs.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again and I look forward to reporting out the bills before us today.###