No sooner was Joe Biden sworn in as the 46th President of the United States than he took action to reverse many of his predecessor’s actions, including the nomination of a new Transportation Secretary.
Some of his initial steps were among the easiest for him to accomplish – reversing a series of executive orders that had been issued previously by President Trump throughout his administration.
Doing so did not require the approval of Congress or call for the time-consuming administrative steps that are required to change formal rulemakings or needed to draft and enact new legislation.
Some of these actions were largely symbolic, while others will impact how businesses operate throughout the United States. One issued Jan. 21 directs OSHA to issue Covid 19 guidance for workplaces within two weeks (See story Page 2).
Biden also vacated previous executive orders dealing with immigration law enforcement, including a freeze on deportations and preserving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program Trump had sought to end. Biden also promised sweeping immigration reform legislation.
Another executive order removed certain restrictions Trump imposed on diversity training requirements for the employees of federal contractors and subcontractors. He and others believe the academic theory that lies behind this kind of training was fundamentally flawed and a number of the training practices that had been embraced were improperly framed, racially discriminatory and unnecessarily divisive.
When it came to the new President’s longer-term policy goals, his transportation regulatory and
infrastructure building plans where aired publicly during the confirmation process for his Secretary of Transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg, who has said he wholeheartedly supports Boden’s promise of creating a “Second Great Railroad Revolution.”
When it comes to freight rail customers, that goal could turn out to be a double-edged sword. For one thing, the bulk of the spending initially under discussion by Biden and Buttigieg is aimed almost entirely at increasing support for mass transit and passenger rail projects across the country.
The agenda also includes boosting federal spending on intermodal and other freight rail projects, normally considered the responsibility of states, localities and highly-profitable Class 1 railroads.
So far, no one in the new administration has said anything about taking the steps necessary to rein in the abuse of shippers that unfortunately has become standard operating procedure for Big Rail: abuses originating from those lines that over the last several years have embraced the Precision Scheduled Railroading model originated by CSX.
If the administration publicly supported the Surface Transportation Board pursuing vigorous rail regulatory enforcement, that might alleviate some of concerns harbored by bruised and battered rail shippers who suffered from widespread service failures and excessive demurrage and accessorial fees. Biden’s naming of a new STB chairman gives hope that he is listening (See article on Page 3).
Another concern for freight shippers should be one of the reasons that Buttigieg gave as his prime motivator for investing in rail infrastructure projects – getting those nasty, polluting and dangerous trucks off of the nation’s highways.
That is part of his proclaimed embrace of Vision Zero, a project that so far has been imposed more
on the local and state levels with the goal of total elimination of fatal motor vehicle accidents through the removal of as many automobiles and trucks from the nation’s roadways as possible.
“I believe that good transportation policy can play no less a role than making possible the
American Dream, getting people and goods to where they need to be, directly and indirectly
creating good-paying jobs,” Buttigieg said during his Jan. 21 Senate confirmation hearing.
“But I also recognize that at their worst, misguided policies and missed opportunities in transportation can reinforce racial and economic inequality, by dividing or isolating neighborhoods and undermining government’s basic role of empowering Americans to thrive.”
One of the ironies of infrastructure policy in recent decades is the fact that, although everyone is in agreement about the need for new spending, it has been impossible to obtain agreement on how to raise the funds for these projects.
Buttigieg has expressed a willingness to consider a broad array of different approaches to funding infrastructures projects, ranging from public-private partnerships to a tax on vehicle miles driven.
He also made a point of embracing transportation safety as a top priority. “If confirmed, I will make sure to work every day to make sure the department meets its mission of ensuring safety for both travelers and for workers,” Buttigieg said at his Senate confirmation hearing. “Safety is the foundation of the department’s mission and that takes on new meaning amid this pandemic.”