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Western Governors Association Winter Meeting

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
Western Governors Association Winter Meeting

December 2, 2017

Phoenix, Arizona

Good morning, everyone. Let me thank the Western Governors Association 2017 Chair, Governor Bullock and incoming chairs Governor Daugaard and Governor Ige for welcoming me here. I am so pleased to join you and the other governors today to discuss innovation and the future of our country’s infrastructure.

We also have a few members of the Department’s senior leadership team here with us today. Let me recognize:

  • Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental and Tribal Affairs Anthony Bedell,
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy Finch Fulton, who will be participating in the panel on Autonomous Vehicles following this, and
  • Governmental Affairs Officer Lori Urban.

In the nine months since I spoke about innovation at the National Governors Association, the Department has launched several key initiatives I’d like to share with you today.  

Many of your states are leading the way in testing new transportation technologies and innovations.  In fact, Governor Burgum’s state of North Dakota is one of the leading states for drone research and testing. And recently, right here in Arizona, a team of medical researchers set a new delivery distance record for drones successfully transporting blood samples across 161 miles of dessert. That could have life-saving implications. So, I’m interested in hearing about the exciting ways you are encouraging innovation in your states.

First, let me share with you my three priorities as Secretary of Transportation. They are:

  1. Safety, which will always be number one;
  2. Infrastructure; and,
  3. Preparing for the future by encouraging innovation.

That last point is especially important because transportation is on the verge of one of the most transformational eras in history. The U.S. Department of Transportation has an important role to play in building and shaping this future. 

That’s why one of the first actions I took as Secretary was to direct NHTSA to develop a regulatory framework that encourages the safe development, testing and deployment of automated vehicle technology. On September 12th, the Department released A Vision for Safety 2.0, which replaces the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy released in 2016.  It clarifies and incorporates many of the concerns we heard from stakeholders and end users.  It also compliments legislation currently pending in Congress. But technology is changing so rapidly that we are already working on version 3.0, set to be released in 2018. The update will include guidance for more than just vehicles.  It will address barriers to the safe integration of automated vehicle technology for road vehicles, transit, trucks, infrastructure and port operations, as well.

As you know, automated technology has tremendous potential to reduce highway fatalities and expand access to transportation for traditionally underserved communities.  However, there are legitimate public concerns about the safety and privacy of automated technology. That’s why I consistently challenge innovators, including Silicon Valley, to step up and address these concerns.

On November 2nd, the Department announced the Drone Integration Pilot Program. The program will accelerate the safe integration of drones into our national airspace by creating new partnerships between local government, the Federal Aviation Administration, and private drone operators. We have received more than 200 applications for this pilot program. These partnerships will allow local communities to experiment with new technologies like package delivery, emergency drone inspections, and more, on terms that work for them. The data and best practices captured by this pilot program will help develop new, more expansive regulations. This will hopefully create a path forward for the safe integration of drones into our national airspace.

Let me also mention one more area of interest. In October, I participated in a meeting of the National Space Council with Vice President Pence to discuss the future of American civil and commercial space efforts. And earlier this year, I visited Space X in California, and got a chance to see firsthand how fast this sector is innovating.  So in FY18, the Department will begin rulemakings to reduce the paperwork and other unnecessary burdens that are holding back the further development of the commercial space industry. The U.S. is currently number one in the world in commercial space launches.  We want to build on that milestone and help ensure our country remains a leader in commercial space. 

Finally, let me share with you what the Department is doing to reduce regulatory costs and burdens on innovators, job creators and taxpayers.  Under this Administration, costs associated with new DOT regulations are MINUS (-) $312 million in 2017 and will be MINUS (-) $500 million in 2018.  As of fall 2017, the Department has initiated 158 rulemakings, of which 76 were regulatory actions, and 82 were deregulatory actions.  31 additional deregulatory actions will be in the works for 2018. 

Some of you have also heard about the Department’s efforts to streamline the permitting process for new infrastructure initiatives, with the help of the “One Federal Decision” policy.  We are determined to reduce the time and financial resources it takes to get approval for new projects.

Let me emphasize that safety remains the Department’s number one priority. In fact, a balanced approach ensures that safety never takes a back seat.  By removing unnecessary, duplicative or seldom used regulations from the regulatory agenda, we can ensure that resources are spent on actually improving safety, rather than paperwork exercises.  That means the regulatory process will be data-driven, based on risk-based analysis, and rooted in sound science.

Before I finish, I would like to congratulate Utah for becoming the third state to receive certification for its State Safety Oversight Program from the Federal Transit Administration. Thank you, Governor Herbert, for keeping safety number one in your state.

Let me conclude by thanking you for the opportunity to meet with you today.  The Department views you as partners, not adversaries. Our success is measured by your success.  So we want to do everything we can to help you, grow, innovate and create new jobs and opportunities for the people of your states.

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Updated: Monday, December 4, 2017
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