The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to confirm Elaine Chao as the 18th transportation secretary and third woman to hold the position. The vote was 93 to 6.
The National School Transportation Association told members earlier this month at its mid-winter meeting that Chao favors regulations based on NSTA’s foundational advocacy principles of “sound science, data analysis, cost-benefit analysis and proven benefits.”
However, that appreciation of science apparently doesn't extend to the issue of climate change, says environmental group Greenpeace, which is urging her to embrace accessible public transportation systems that "significantly" lower air pollution and decrease carbon emissions.
"Chao’s connection to institutions that manufacture climate denial, like the Heritage Foundation, requires the public demand she prioritize both public health and the impacts of climate change when managing our transportation infrastructure," said Greenpeace USA spokesperson Cassady Craighill after then President-elect Trump named her as his transportation pick in November.
Still, Chao has been considered one of President Trump's least controversial appointments. She served as deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation from 1989-1991 under President George H.W. Bush and as secretary of labor under President George W. Bush from 2001-2009.
NSTA submitted a white paper to the U.S. Department of Transportation transition team in December that outlined several priorities for the new administration.
Included in the white paper, NSTA wants the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to rescind the Safety Fitness Determination NPRM and the Obstructive Sleep Apnea ANPRM, halt any pending studies on or considerations of raising minimum insurance requirements on private motor carriers; remove school bus carrier CSA scores from public view as well as perform a comprehensive review of the CSA program; and appoint a senior-level contact at the agency to address school bus-specific issues.
NSTA also wants the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to abandon recommendations to install seat belts on all school buses and wants to direct the agency's focus to providing resource to combat illegal passing. NSTA also seeks school bus industry input into any autonomous vehicle policy and regulations.
As for the Federal Transit Administration, NSTA wants continued enforcement of protections for the school bus industry against unfair competition by local transit agencies and incentives extended to public transit agencies to seek participation of the private sector in providing public transportation services.
The Intelligent Transportation Society of America, an advocate for technological modernization of the national transportation system through advanced research and deployment, said it appreciates Chao’s comments made during her confirmation hearings, when she acknowledged that the private sector is driving innovation in transportation.
It is important, Chao added, to “position the federal government as a catalyst for safe, efficient technologies, not as an impediment.”
“Today, we find ourselves in the midst of a whirlwind period of innovation in transportation—driven by swift advances in cloud computing, automation, robotics and artificial intelligence. This, in turn, is changing the fundamental makeup of entire industries,” said ITS America President and CEO Regina Hopper in a statement on Tuesday. “Our members would like to work closely with you to build a transportation infrastructure that is the technological envy of the world—a national system that drives economic growth, enhances global competitiveness, advances safety, and improves mobility.”