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Pete Buttigieg confirmed as transportation secretary

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Photo: Gage Skidmore Flickr

Washington — Pete Buttigieg is the new secretary of transportation after the Senate confirmed his nomination Feb. 2.

“I’m honored and humbled by today’s vote in the Senate – and ready to get to work @USDOT,” Buttigieg wrote on his Twitter account.

He served as mayor of South Bend, IN, from 2012 to 2020, and was a Democratic presidential candidate this past election.

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Jan. 21, Buttigieg fielded questions about certain commercial motor vehicle regulations. In particular, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) asked about avoiding a “patchwork” of state laws for CMV drivers, giving the example of California’s meal and rest break laws. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in December 2018 granted a petition to preempt those laws with its own regulations, and that action was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 15, 2020.

Similarly, FMCSA preempted Washington state’s meal and rest break rules in November.

“Certainly, I recognize the importance of consistency, predictability, and the key, of course, is squaring that with the fundamental mission of safety,” Buttigieg said.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) asked about the FMCSA pilot program on sleeper berth time flexibility and her proposed Haulers of Agriculture and Livestock Safety Act (S. 4720), which was introduced in October but failed to make it out of committee before the new Congress began. The bill would have eliminated FMCSA’s seasonality requirements for livestock and agricultural haulers’ hours of service. Currently, those drivers are allowed HOS exemptions during state-mandated planting and harvesting seasons if they’re within a 150 air-mile radius of their destination.

 

“Sometimes our policies can’t tell the difference between live animals and other cargo,” Buttigieg said. “It’s one of the things I’m eager to look into and to work with you on as well.”

Buttigieg takes over for Elaine Chao, who stepped down Jan. 11.

“Safety is the foundation of the department’s mission, and that takes on new meaning amid this pandemic,” Buttigieg said in his opening statement during the hearing. “We have to ensure all of our transportation systems – from aviation, public transit, our railways, roads, ports, waterways and pipelines – all of it is managed safely in this critical period as we work to defeat the virus for good.”

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