February 2, 2021 1:45 PM, EST

Senate Confirms Pete Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary

Pete Buttigieg is sworn inPete Buttigieg, with his hand on the Bible held by Chasten Buttigieg, is sworn in as Transportation Secretary by Vice President Kamala Harris Feb. 3. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

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The U.S. Department of Transportation has a new leader in Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 presidential candidate and the former mayor of South Bend, Ind.

Buttigieg on Feb. 2 was confirmed to become secretary of transportation by a Senate vote of 86-13.

The chamber’s action came about a week after a Senate committee voted 21-3 to approve his nomination.

Buttigieg, who succeeds former Secretary Elaine Chao, will lead a department tasked with ensuring the safety of the nation’s mobility networks, managing the introduction of new technologies and addressing growing concerns linked to climate change.

“We need to build our economy back, better than ever, and the Department of Transportation can play a central role in this, by implementing President Biden’s infrastructure vision — creating millions of good-paying jobs, revitalizing communities that have been left behind, enabling American small businesses, workers, families and farmers to compete and win in the global economy, and tackling the climate crisis,” Buttigieg told senators during his confirmation hearing in January.

On Capitol Hill, transportation leaders praised Buttigieg’s record as mayor and his political instincts on the national stage, and expressed confidence in his ability to perform the tasks of secretary. Commerce Committee incoming Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) outlined a list of issues awaiting Buttigieg at USDOT, such as infrastructure programs, autonomous vehicles and freight mobility. “He’ll have to make big investments in game-changing projects that will help us move freight more cost-effectively through our nation,” Cantwell said.

A champion of climate change initiatives, Buttigieg repeatedly has pledged to help lead President Joe Biden’s infrastructure policy agenda. The new president insists a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure funding package, likely unveiled this month, would assist with an economic recovery during the pandemic era.

Specific to the trucking industry, Buttigieg agreed to review federal hours-of-service rules for commercial drivers. He also acknowledged the central role truck drivers hold in advancing commerce.

“I commit to taking a hard look at the hours-of-service regulations and how such regulations intersect with the varied complexities of truckers’ daily work, including those who transport time-sensitive cargo such as livestock and agricultural commodities,” Buttigieg told senators.

 “We need to ensure that truck drivers operate under conditions that guarantee their safety and the safety of everyone on our roadways,” he added. “I am eager to engage truckers and better understand their concerns.”

Policies centered on climate change continue to dominate Biden’s vision for rebuilding aspects of the country’s infrastructure. In executive orders signed in January, the president directed federal agencies to purchase zero-emission American vehicles, and commence the halting of oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters. The orders also tasked agencies to promote resilience for infrastructure projects, as well as clean energy initiatives.

“We can put millions of Americans to work modernizing our water systems, transportation, our energy infrastructure to withstand the impacts of extreme climate,” Biden said Jan. 27. “We’ve already reached a point where we’re going to have to live with what it is now.”

Many groups representing infrastructure funding proponents, as well as freight stakeholders welcomed Buttigieg’s confirmation.

American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear said in a statement to Transport Topics: “We are pleased to see that Secretary Buttigieg was swiftly confirmed by the Senate. We look forward to working with him to get Americans back to work and moving safely and efficiently.”

The American Society of Civil Engineers, a chronicler of the country’s infrastructure system, expressed eagerness to work with the new secretary.

“Our nation’s highways, bridges, local roads, transit systems and railroads need repair, and poor infrastructure already costs the average American household $3,300 a year in lost disposable income. The financial ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic have only exacerbated pre-existing issues,” ASCE President Jean-Louis Briaud said. The group issued a D+ grade to the overall status of the nation’s networks of roads, bridges, ports, canals, railways, waterways, tunnels, and broadband.

“As the nation looks to revitalize the economy, ASCE believes that our infrastructure systems and our transportation networks need to be a top priority to provide access and opportunity to communities,” Briaud said.

Said Lisa Mullings, CEO of NATSO, a group representing travel plazas and truck stops: “We are encouraged that Secretary Buttigieg, as a former mayor, understands the important role that infrastructure policy plays for local businesses and communities that thrive because of the Interstate Highway System.”
Buttigieg, the first openly gay person confirmed to the U.S. Cabinet, earned degrees from Harvard and Oxford.

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