DC Update: No Electronics Ban on Flights From Europe; Tolling, Gas-Tax Issues Reemerge

A report on government actions that could affect the remote-production industry

Congress was in recess this week, but Washington was still buzzing over issues that affect logistics and remote production.

On Tuesday, after several weeks of discussions, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will not ban laptops from cabins of planes flying to the U.S. from Europe. According to several reports, worry over the safety implications of storing personal electronic devices with lithium batteries in aircraft cargo holds was an influential factor in the decision, furthering the concern over lithium batteries on airplanes in general. A spokesperson for DHS also emphasized that it is still possible for the U.S. to implement the ban in the future.

A lithium-ion–battery fire in a backpack raised concerns over personal electronics on planes again.

This matter received additional attention when a flight from New York to San Francisco was diverted to Grand Rapids, MI, because a lithium-ion battery in a passenger’s backpack caught fire.

On Wednesday, the International Transport Forum published a report showing that driverless trucks could reduce demand for drivers by 50%-70% in the U.S. and Europe by 2030. The report recommends that countries address the workforce issues now and regulate the speed with which countries adopt the new technology. As discussed in previous DC Updates, Congress is starting to act on the issue: it has held several hearings this year on how to implement and regulate technology, and a few members introduced legislation that would appropriate federal funding to research and development.

Gas-tax discussions reemerged this week when White House infrastructure advisor Richard LeFrak said on Wednesday that he is in favor of raising the gas tax or at least adjusting the tax for inflation. Last month, although Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggested that it is unlikely for a gas tax to be included in the administration’s tax-overhaul plan, President Trump announced that it is something he would consider. Despite the conflicting messages from the administration, LeFrak’s announcement on Wednesday suggests that raising the tax may still be on the table. DC Update will continue to follow the issue.

On Thursday, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (D-PA) surprised many when he said in an interview that there “may be some targeted tolling happening around the country in really congested areas.” As discussed in last week’s DC Update, expanding tolling on existing interstates seemed to be a “political nonstarter,” making Shuster’s statement an unexpected turn in events. DC Update will continue to follow developments.

Thursday marked the 122-day countdown until DOT appropriations run out. FAA reauthorization also expires in 122 days, and the highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,218 days.

With Congress back in session next week, more talk on infrastructure planning and funding is expected. Stay tuned for next week’s DC Update.

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