The future of autonomous vehicle policy in the United States may drastically change after President-Elect Joe Biden is inaugurated. This past week, for the first time, we got insight into how the Biden Administration will address the future of transportation. That insight came by way of the appointment of Pete Buttigieg, former South Bend Mayor and presidential candidate, to lead the Department of Transportation, pending Senate Confirmation.
Buttigieg, during his presidential run, laid out a comprehensive infrastructure plan call “Building for the 21st Century: An infrastructure plan to create jobs, increase resilience, and usher a new era of opportunity.” The Plan included $165 billion for the Highway Trust Fund, paid for through a user-fee system (possibly vehicle-miles traveled fee) instead of the gas tax. He also aims to reassemble the Advisory Committee on Automation in Transportation which was disbanded under Elaine Chao’s leadership. Moreover, he proposed that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration take on a “strong federal role for regulation and oversight” to safely advance autonomy.
More recently, in a speech to African American county officials Buttigieg said that automation will be a major emphasis for him especially in regard to land use and parking. “Communities could risk being left behind if they are not among those that prepare any things that need to be there,” he said. The statements made by Buttigieg hint at a more proactive federal approach to regulating autonomous vehicles.
President-Elect Biden also announced that former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is his pick to lead the Department of Energy. Granholm has strong connections to the auto industry and will take a lead position in the Biden Administration’s drive toward electrification of transportation. During the campaign, President-Elect Biden promised to build over a half a million EV charging stations and created 1 million clean energy jobs. Granholm and Biden know each other well after working on the 2009 bailout of automobile manufacturers General Motors and Chrysler, which included incentives for investments in car batteries.
Granholm has not made many public statements focused on automation but what is available points to a focus on the impact of autonomous vehicles on labor. In a 2018 interview with the California Transit Association, Granholm noted that, “There has been a lot of speculation about what autonomous cars will do for drivers. There are about five million people that make their living driving (taxi, truck drivers, public transit operators, etc.). It’s about three percent of the workforce. It has been described as about the same size as the decline in manufacturing jobs since 2000 and about as comparable of potential shock. That is really significant; it is a huge deal. And it is already starting to happen.” The focus on labor is in line with the rhetoric and early policy proposals from President Biden who has always cast himself as a labor advocate.
Finally, two Massachusetts natives will have significant influence over the environmental policies of the Biden Administration, former Secretary of State, John Kerry, will serve as international climate envoy, and former EPA Administrator, Gina McCarty, will be national climate adviser. McCarthy, as EPA Administrator, led efforts to increase fuel efficiency in automobiles among other clean energy initiatives. John Kerry, for his part, will initially lead the effort for the United States to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and will pursue additional international climate programs.
Dentons will continue to track public policy statements as well as internal conversations at the Departments of Transportation and Energy.
For more updates, check out our latest report: Autonomous Vehicles in the US: 50-State Roundup examines the mobility revolution across the US, providing the most up-to-date information on driverless vehicle testing and deployment in each state.