WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) questioned Peter Buttigeig, President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT) about the need to support aviation-centric business, restore confidence in traveler safety, and oppose the shipment of nuclear waste into Nevada. A transcript of the Senator’s full exchange can be found below, and a video of the Senator’s full exchange can be found here.
ROSEN: Mr. Buttigieg, thank you for being with us today and for your commitment to serving our nation. I really appreciated our productive meeting and look forward to learning more about your plans to invest in our nation’s infrastructure, support Nevada’s travel and tourism economy, and create new transportation and infrastructure jobs that we need. Amidst a global pandemic that has really devastated our economy, I really urge this committee to facilitate a swift confirmation for Mr. Buttigieg so he can immediately get to work on all the things that our colleagues on this committee have asked for, for our nation and their states as well.
I want to just briefly make a comment on what Senator Sinema said about I-11. Of course, Nevada and Arizona are both fast-growing states out west, and we are not connected between Las Vegas and Phoenix. Our infrastructure just has not kept up with our explosive growth. We need significant transportation investments -- a new highway infrastructure, not just to repair the old highways, and that investment must include a new Interstate 11 that runs from the Mexican border, through Phoenix and Las Vegas, up through the northern half of my state. It is extremely important. This remains one of the top infrastructure priorities, and I think it’s one of the few remaining metropolitan areas that aren’t connected directly by interstate.
I appreciate your commitment to Senator Sinema on that, and we’ll look to work together with the Arizona Delegation in order to do that.
Will you commit to working with me and the rest of the Nevada and Arizona Delegations to support efforts to fund, develop, construct, and expand I-11 so we can connect our two states’ economies, bring more visitors to both states, and create jobs?
I want to build also on aviation, travel, and tourism. In Nevada, travel and tourism are the lifeblood of our economy, and our airports are the gateway to our great state for millions of domestic and international tourists and business travelers. In 2019 alone, just one of our airports saw over 50 million passengers, generated $35 billion in economic output, supported over 250,000 jobs, and was responsible for 18 percent of our region’s gross domestic product. That’s why the economic slowdown has been so devastating.
The travel slow-down, of course, has meant job losses, not only at our amazing hotels and casinos and in our convention halls, but also at airports themselves – from gate agents to concessionaires and all the related small businesses. In order to fully recover from the pandemic we have to work on economic growth and invest in our aviation, airports, and tourism generally.
So, I’m hoping that you’ll commit to working with me to ensure that the Biden Administration’s infrastructure package will invest in our nation’s airports and that future COVID relief packages continue to support our airports, small concessions, and small businesses?
BUTTIGEIG: One of the best parts of campaigning in your state was getting to know the extraordinary workers. I know how much they have been impacted by what’s happened. You have my commitment to work together to support them.
ROSEN: And of course, we don’t have all those businesses without our great travelers that come to our wonderful state, especially Southern Nevada and our Las Vegas convention center. So, we need to work on policies that are going to increase confidence in the traveling public and business – that they can have conventions, that they can go on vacation. So, how do you think that you’re going to work On trying to build some of this confidence back in our aviation safety after the pandemic and promote our economy?
BUTTIGEIG: The most important thing I think is a perception and a reality of safety in air travel, and while the idea of safety in air travel had one kind of meaning a year ago, it’s taken on additional meaning now in the context of the pandemic. It’s one of the reasons why the President’s executive action on mask mandates is so important and we should do everything else that we can to make sure that passengers know that they’ll have a safe experience which has always been the mission of the FAA and the DOT, but, of course now has taken on new meaning in the COVID era.
ROSEN: Well thank you, I appreciate that. I think I have time for one more question so I want to talk about something that we discussed a little bit, which is Yucca Mountain and nuclear waste disposal. Nevadans refuse to let our state become the nation’s dumping ground for nuclear waste. For over 30 years, we have opposed the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal project, in part because it would require transporting nearly 9,500 rail casks in 2,800 trains and 2,650 trucks from across the country to Nevada.
This is a major transportation crisis waiting to happen, putting major metropolitan areas in 44 states, their freeways and their railways at risk along with millions of Americans. It would require at least 300 miles of new railroad, and take over 50 years – at three loads per week by truck or by train -- to move all this nuclear waste. It’s a huge expense, it’s a huge risk, and we have an aging rail system, and consistent shipments of these heavy casks are going to cause wear and tear. Let alone the safety [issues] and some of the bottlenecks. If you go by train, you have to go by the same four major metropolitan areas three times a week for 50 years with that nuclear waste. I just think that would be unacceptable to those poor cities and our states as well.
As Secretary of Transportation, you will have jurisdiction over the rail lines, and jurisdiction on the transportation of hazardous materials by rail via your Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and its Office of Hazardous Materials Safety.
So, with that in mind, given the safety concerns, the economic concerns, and the fact that the state of Nevada has never consented to the project, will you commit to opposing the dangerous shipments [of nuclear waste] to Yucca Mountain?
BUTTIGEIG: I’m committed to making sure that there are solutions that everybody believes in. I share the concerns that you’ve raised, not just from the Nevada perspective but all across the route.
ROSEN: I look forward to having more discussions with you on that. I appreciate your time here today and your willingness to serve our country. I thank you for your service in our military and look forward to working with you when you come out of committee.