U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “The State of Transportation and Critical Infrastructure: Examining the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. The hearing will examine the impact of COVID-19 on surface transportation and the supply chain. Witnesses will discuss how the surface transportation stakeholders have responded to the pandemic and how they have continued to provide critical services during the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Mr. John Bozzella, President and Chief Executive Officer, Alliance for Automotive Innovation
- Mr. Randy Guillot, Chairman of the Board, American Trucking Associations
- Mr. Ian Jefferies, President and Chief Executive Officer, Association of American Railroads
- Mr. Alex Oehler, Interim President and Chief Executive Officer, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America
- Mr. Larry Willis, President, Transportation Trades Department, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
*Witness list subject to change
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Full Committee Hearing
This hearing will take place in the Dirksen Senate Office Building G50. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
*In order to maintain physical distancing as advised by the Office of the Attending Physician, seating for credentialed press will be limited throughout the course of the hearing. Due to current limited access to the Capitol complex, the general public is encouraged to view this hearing via the live stream.
Chairman Roger Wicker
The Committee has conducted several oversight hearings on COVID-19, including a comprehensive look at the aviation industry. We are continuing those discussions by considering the impact of COVID-19 virus on surface transportation and its critical infrastructure employees. The pandemic has underscored the importance of our transportation network in moving goods and people safely and efficiently as well as ensuring supply chain fluidity in response to unexpected events.
We are grateful for the many frontline workers who have shown remarkable resilience and resourcefulness to help deliver critical care, services, and supplies to those in need. The transportation sector has countless numbers of these unsung heroes.
Ranking Member Cantwell and I recently introduced the “Critical Infrastructure Employees Protection Act” along with Senators Sullivan and Young to provide support for our frontline critical infrastructure employees. The bill would direct the Department of Transportation to coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support state and local governments in making sure that critical infrastructure employees have access to testing and personal protective equipment (PPE).
The COVID-19 crisis has had dramatic effects on the transportation sector. U.S. rail traffic has seen some of the weakest levels since the Great Recession. The American Trucking Associations’ for-hire truck tonnage index dropped 12.2 percent in April. Automotive production reached its lowest level since World War II. In Mississippi, we saw the closure of auto and truck manufacturing plants, affecting thousands of employees and families.
Yet in the face of adversity, our transportation network and its hardworking employees have persevered. During the pandemic, some automakers have been producing ventilators and they continue to do so as they reopen manufacturing plants. Freight railroads prioritized movement of essential materials to manufacturers who are making protective gear for hospital staff. Truck drivers have continued delivering goods to hospitals, markets, and homes. And pipeline employees have ensured their operations keep our homes, businesses, and hospitals running.
The transportation sector has also embraced technology in responding to COVID-19. We have seen the use of automated vehicle systems and ride-hailing vehicles to deliver food to frontline workers and transport medical supplies and testing equipment.
The U.S. DOT has worked diligently to support the transportation sector through emergency actions, stakeholder guidance, and regulatory relief.
The CARES Act provided help to Amtrak, aviation, and transit. We included language to give states flexibility on highway safety grants, and two weeks ago the Committee passed legislation, which Ranking Member Cantwell and I introduced with Senators Thune, Fischer, and Duckworth, that would give states flexibility on their use of federal funds for commercial motor vehicle safety activities.
Today’s hearing provides an opportunity for witnesses to discuss how COVID-19 has affected the transportation sector, including its employees and customers, and to discuss how Congress can support these efforts. I would ask our witnesses to describe the work of their members to provide critical services throughout this crisis and how they see transportation policy being affected as our nation begins to move forward.
This hearing highlights only a few elements of the transportation sector. To gain additional insight, Ranking Member Cantwell and I are sending a letter to other transportation groups to solicit their feedback as well.
Again, I would like to thank our witnesses for participating in this hearing as well as the entire transportation sector and their workers for their response to this pandemic.
I now recognize my dear friend and Ranking Member, Senator Cantwell, for her comments.
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell
CANTWELL: Thank you Mr. Chairman, and thank you for holding this hearing on the state of our critical infrastructure, and thank you to the witnesses for being here today to give testimony on these issues.
Our frontline workers have been tirelessly working to help contain and mitigate the spread of the virus, and to keep America functioning with our critical areas like health care, infrastructure, transportation, and so I’m glad to hear from you today about these issues.
Transportation workers in particular have been critical for getting people to and from work, getting life-saving goods out to hospitals and to first responders. Transportation workers have also have kept food moving to our supply system to our kitchen tables, and have stocked our stores with essential goods.
Those workers have put themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis to keep America running during this pandemic.
Unfortunately, we have lost these transportation workers, and our families have been impacted. I want to bring one to kind, Samina Hameed, from my home state of Washington. Samina drove a bus in King County, and she leaves behind a husband, and was also…a bus driver with three children. So my heart goes out to her and her family and the loved ones that are impacted by this.
We’ve held a hearing recently on how our airports and airlines were doing as it related to public health, and we heard from Dr. Godwin of the University of Washington about the need for guidelines.
We sent a letter to then the task force for the COVID-19 crisis, Vice President Pence, and to Secretary Chao, and to other members asking for such guidelines. I think they still have not been issues, and I’m not sure they’re going to be issued, which I think is a mistake. Guidelines can help us move forward, they can help us put the right safety measures in place so our economy can move forward.
Our colleagues also last month, as the Chairman was saying, introduced the Critical Infrastructure Employee Protection Act. I was glad to join Chairman Wicker on this bill, with Senators Young, Sullivan, and Blunt, and this bill would direct the federal government to support states in prioritizing testing and access to personal protective equipment for those people who are on the frontline.
I want to mention that that includes firefighters in my state. One thing that’s gotten left out in some of the PPE funding has been those firefighters. You wouldn’t think that they would, but they have. And it’s so important since they are essential in transporting individuals from our nursing home facilities into hospitals, and we’ve had a high, high number of deaths occur in nursing homes. That transport is done by firefighters, and they deserve access to this personal protection equipment.
I’m also pleased to cosponsor the Senator Blumenthal Essential Transportation Employee Safety Act. This bill would require passenger and freight transportation companies to abide by the CDC recommendations including mandatory cleaning, disinfecting areas, and provisions for personal protective equipment to our frontline workers.
I also want to especially thank Larry Willis for being here, speaking on behalf of millions of transportation workers who are also on the front lines of this pandemic and delivering service.
The transportation sector has been critically impacted, and the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our transportation trade into a mere small impact of what it was before. And so, again, I believe that if we want to get this right moving forward, having good guidelines, continuing to open prospects for not just the movement of people but freight capacity, our shipping vessels, and moving forward so commerce can continue, is really important.
I also want to mention that having the right personal protective equipment is critical. Ventec Life Systems, a company based in Bothell, Washington, partnered with automotive GM to increase the production of ventilators. Other auto workers have been producing masks and shields, as well as the Boeing company has been producing shields.
So, these efforts of frontline workers to help us produce the products that we need to keep safe as the pandemic continues, is also something we should talk about. Because as we see those transportation sectors moving or having people not fully employed, thinking about what we could do to use their talents in helping us get this product and security of PPE right in supply chain, I think, is a national priority.
So we need to do more to continue to reopen. So I look forward to hearing the discussion and the impacts of these infrastructure areas today. A lot of the previous legislation has focused on the aviation transportation sector, and I’m sure today we’re going to hear about other infrastructure—not just transportation infrastructure but broadband, hospitals, housing, and education should also be on the list.
So, again Mr. Chairman, thank you very much and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today.
Witness Panel 1
Mr. John BozzellaPresident and Chief Executive OfficerAlliance for Automotive Innovation
Mr. Randy GuillotChairman of the BoardAmerican Trucking Associations
Mr. Ian JefferiesPresident and Chief Executive OfficerAssociation of American Railroads
Mr. Alex OehlerInterim President and Chief Executive OfficerInterstate Natural Gas Association of America
Mr. Larry WillisPresident, Transportation Trades DepartmentAmerican Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)