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Early vaccination push for front-line workers gains urgency

Mayor Pete joins swirl of DOT names — Will Cuomo undermine the Gateway project?

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With help from Tanya Snyder

Editor’s Note: Weekly Transportation is a weekly version of POLITICO Pro’s daily Transportaton policy newsletter, Morning Transportation. POLITICO Pro is a policy intelligence platform that combines the news you need with tools you can use to take action on the day’s biggest stories. Act on the news with POLITICO Pro.

THE BALL IS ROLLING: The Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for use in the U.S. late Friday, launching months of logistics planning into action. By Sunday morning, trucks had started carrying the first doses of the vaccine that FedEx, UPS United Airlines and American Airlines will help distribute across the country. FAA quickly cleared pilots and air traffic controllers to take it so long as they postpone performing safety-related duties, like flying, for 48 hours after taking each of the two doses. The agency also issued guidance to airports Friday with recommendations for facilitating transport of Covid-19 vaccines that included how they might accommodate larger-than-usual aircraft.

What industry wants next: As transportation workers begin helping to distribute the vaccine across the country, expect to see a bigger push from various sectors — including aviation, transit, trucking and ports — for vaccine priority for their front-line workers. In recent days, major trade organizations have requested their workforce follow medical and health care professionals in the early rounds of vaccinations. Last week, a coalition of aviation groups sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requesting early vaccine access for their workers.

A separate consortium of surface and maritime transportation groups told senators it was urgent that freight rail, port and waterway, and energy workers get the vaccine to help “keep our critical supply chains operating, reinforce the resilience of our transportation networks, and mitigate the risk of economic downturns and their effects at the local, regional, and national levels.”

What’s at stake: Already a resurgence of outbreaks at the nation’s ports has longshoremen, their families and maritime officials worried about what will happen if port workers don’t receive the vaccine early, The New York Times reported Saturday. “If longshoremen have to stay home because they’re still vulnerable to Covid,” Daniel Maffei, a federal maritime commissioner, told the outlet, “it’s going to be a perfect storm that could jam the entire supply chain.”

IT’S MONDAY: Thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation. If it moves, we cover it. Get in touch with tips, feedback and song lyrics at [email protected] or @samjmintz.

Where those fishing boats / With their sails afloat / If I could only see / That familiar sunrise/ Through sleepy eyes

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MAYOR PETE AT DOT? Another name has entered the DOT rumor mill, and this time it’s a familiar one: Pete Buttigieg. Lydia Moynihan of Fox Business reported on Friday that Buttigieg is the “favorite” to lead DOT, with Eric Garcetti’s chances fading as the Los Angeles mayor deals with multiple scandals in his office. The nice thing about a former presidential candidate being the latest reported favorite is that we’ve already done plenty of reporting about his positions. Buttigieg during the campaign called for a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, funded by tax-cut repeals and other tax changes, and had a specific focus on transitioning to a vehicle-miles-traveled fee, as well as one of the few plans that drilled down on road safety.

CUOMO CONUNDRUM: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is being accused of jeopardizing the Gateway project with his support for a report that questions the justification for a new tunnel “just as Gateway’s prospects are buoyed by the election of ‘Amtrak’ Joe Biden,” POLITICO’s Danielle Muoio and Samantha Maldonado report. Cuomo, who previously criticized the Trump administration for blocking funds for the project, has recently pushed a report suggesting that building a new tunnel might be unnecessary. The report, which was prepared by an independent firm, has prompted backlash from Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and New Jersey lawmakers.

What it all comes down to: “The public and private discord that has ensued over the report’s release underscores the deep anxiety over the project’s future and has renewed fears the existing tunnels are nearing catastrophic failure,” according to the story. Among the major concerns for officials working on the project is that the report could delay federal approval because it contradicts the current environmental impact statement that said a new tunnel was necessary to make repairs on existing tunnels. It could also undermine the project’s justification for funding from Congress, Danielle and Samantha write.

MONEY MONDAY?: Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said a bipartisan group will introduce their $908 billion coronavirus relief bill today. House and Senate negotiators spent the weekend trying to hammer out a package, and House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer suggested Sunday that the path forward might include the party dropping its support for state and local assistance. “In the legislative process, nobody ever gets everything they want,” he told CNN’s Abby Phillip on “Inside Politics.”

ALTERED CARBON: United Airlines last week started a new effort to make its air travel greener, launching a multimillion-dollar investment in a new carbon capture plant along with Occidental Petroleum and an investment firm. The airline is aiming to offset its carbon emissions completely by 2050, but it’s doing so in a different way from the typical airline offsets seen in the past. “There are some laudable traditional offset programs, but they simply cannot come close to scaling” for the rapid rise of carbon emissions since the industrial era, United’s CEO, Scott Kirby, said at a POLITICO event on Friday. “It’s too easy to get attracted to the siren song of I’ll just write a check to an NGO.”

SILVER LININGS: FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told the Aero Club of Washington on Friday that despite — or perhaps because of — the challenges of this year, “we may someday look back and actually call this our finest hour,” to borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill. He said that the 737 MAX crisis has brought about some positive developments, including greater international collaboration and the utilization of a Technical Advisory Board, which he said they’ve identified as a best practice and will continue to use. He also said that in the certification process, they’re looking to “improve the interrelationship between aircraft design and human factors and training and making sure that all those issues are looked at as integrative to the design.”

Fastest man alive: Dickson also tipped his hat to Chuck Yeager and noted that FAA has two new rulemakings to enable supersonic flights over water, with supersonic flights over land restricted until NASA, FAA and industry can complete work on low-boom technologies.

Postscript: He also noted that 70 percent of the technology for NextGen has been introduced.

RULEMAKINGS GALORE: The FRA issued a final rule on Friday extending the amount of time that freight rail equipment can be left “off-air,” or parked with its air brake system depressurized, before requiring a new brake inspection. The agency says this is expected to reduce the number of idling locomotives. The move follows a similar action by Canada way back in 2008, allowing trains to be off-air for 24 hours, and FRA said that Canada’s operational safety data since then supports the rulemaking. The industry likes it. “The FRA has modernized outdated, legacy regulations to keep pace with the industry’s ongoing tech transformation while maintaining uncompromising levels of safety,” said Ian Jefferies, CEO of the Association of American Railroads. FRA estimates that the industry will perform 110,000 fewer Class I brake inspections annually because of the rule.

ANOTHER ONE: Meanwhile, FHWA is making some changes that will excite the real transportation nerds: proposing updates to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices that will become its 11th edition. Among the changes are finalizing traffic control devices which have been approved on an interim basis, including different colored pavement for bike and bus lanes and expanded traffic control devices for bicycles, like intersection bicycle boxes and more. The updates also include “considerations for agencies to prepare roadways for automated vehicle technologies and to support the safe deployment of automated driving systems.” That would be a whole new title in the manual, giving agencies ideas to consider for vehicle automation as they assess their infrastructure needs and prepare their roads.

Get involved: Here’s the proposed rule which DOT is now taking comment on.

DOT appropriations run out in five days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 1,020 days. The surface transportation reauthorization expires in 290 days.

— ”Biden faces intense pressure from all sides as he seeks diverse Cabinet.” The New York Times.

— “Biden wants to restore limits Trump trampled; progressives say ‘not so fast’.” Los Angeles Times.

— “Study explores link between public transportation and spread of seasonal flu.” The Washington Post.

— ”The emergency funding ideas that could help keep transit alive.” Bloomberg CityLab.

— “TSA officers at Philadelphia International Airport see alarming rise in coronavirus cases, union says.” The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Source: https://www.politico.com/newsletters/weekly-transportation/2020/12/14/early-vaccination-push-for-front-line-workers-gains-urgency-792245

Automotive

This Morning in Metals: U.S. average retail gas price dropped to lowest since 2016 last year

This morning in metals news: U.S. average gas prices fell to their lowest level since 2016 last year; the U.S. Treasury announced sanctions against Iran’s steel industry; and Ford Motor Co….

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gas station pump

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This morning in metals news: U.S. average gas prices fell to their lowest level since 2016 last year; the U.S. Treasury announced sanctions against Iran’s steel industry; and Ford Motor Co. released its Q4 2020 U.S. sales results.

Cut-to-length adders. Width and gauge adders. Coatings. Feel confident in knowing what you should be paying for metal with MetalMiner should-cost models.

U.S. average gas price drops in 2020

As MetalMiner readers know, we keep tabs on commodities like oil insofar as they can be price drivers for metals. In short, oil price increases are often supportive of metals prices. (Readers can learn more about our analysis in the most recent update to our Annual Outlook.)

Unsurprisingly, given the slowdown in travel last year stemming from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., the average gas price fell to its lowest level since 2016, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported.

Per the EIA, the average gas price dropped to $2.17 per gallon.

Meanwhile, in mid-March 2020, before the declaration of a national emergency, the average stood at $2.38 per gallon.

U.S. levies sanctions on ‘key actors’ in Iran’s steel sector

The U.S. Treasury on Tuesday announced sanctions on several firms in the Iranian steel sector, in addition to a Chinese supplier of graphite electrodes.

The Treasury announced sanctions on China’s Kaifeng Pingmei New Carbon Materials Technology Co., Ltd. (KFCC), which sold graphite electrodes to Pasargad Steel Complex, the Treasury said.

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control also announced sanctions on 12 Iranian steel manufacturers or holding companies.

Ford announces Q4 sales results

Ford Motor Co. announced its total U.S. sales fell 9.8% in Q4 2020 on a year-over-year basis.

Furthermore, truck sales fell 12.5% and car sales fell 41.1%. However, SUV sales ticked up by 4.0%.

In addition, Ford’s full-year 2020 sales fell by 15.6% compared with the previous year.

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Automotive

Automotive MMI: General Motors posts strong Q4 in U.S. sales

The Automotive Monthly Metals Index (MMI) jumped 4.9% for this month’s index reading, as General Motors posted a strong Q4 in the U.S. market. Become part of the MetalMiner LinkedIn group and…

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General Motors headquarters

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The Automotive Monthly Metals Index (MMI) jumped 4.9% for this month’s index reading, as General Motors posted a strong Q4 in the U.S. market.

January 2021 Automotive MMI chart

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General Motors posts strong Q4

In the U.S., General Motors reported Q4 sales of 771,323 vehicles, up 5% year over year.

The automaker said the quarter marked its best fourth-quarter retail sales since 2007.

“GM outperformed the industry in the quarter and the full year by a significant margin because our manufacturing and supply chain teams and dealers helped keep people safe at work and our launches on track,” said Steve Carlisle, executive vice president and president of GM North America. “Extraordinary teamwork has set up everyone to succeed in 2021 as the economy continues to recover and we further ramp up truck and SUV production.”

Furthermore, average transaction prices set fourth-quarter and full-year records, GM reported, at $41,886 and $39,229, respectively.

Meanwhile, Fiat Chrysler reported Q4 U.S. sales of 499,431 vehicles, or down 8% year over year. The automaker’s full-year sales in 2020 declined by 17% compared with the previous year.

“The work undertaken by our dealers was nothing less than heroic given the challenges they faced this year,” U.S. Head of Sales Jeff Kommor said. “The fourth quarter provided a strong springboard heading into 2021. Looking ahead, we anticipate an exciting year that will include a variety of new vehicles. Just in the first quarter alone, we will be offering the Ram 1500 TRX, Jeep Wrangler 4xe, Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392, the refreshed Dodge Durango and the refreshed Chrysler Pacifica.”

Nissan reported Q4 sales of 243,133 vehicles, down 19.3% year over year. The automaker’s full-year sales, meanwhile, declined by 33.2% year over year.

Honda’s December sales were about flat on a year-over-year basis (down 0.1%), while its full-year sales fell 16.3%.

J.D. Power, LMC Automotive release December data

Per a jointly released forecast by J.D. Power and LMC Automotive, U.S. new-vehicle retail sales were forecast to rise in December on a year-over-year basis.

The uptick marked a positive end to what was a challenging year for the sector. The challenges were at their peak in Q2, when automakers suspended production for two months and the U.S. began its first round of coronavirus-related restrictions.

When adjusted for selling days, December sales were forecast to rise 1.0% year over year. Meanwhile, full-year new-vehicle retail sales were forecast to drop by 9.5%.

“December’s performance closes the year on multiple positive notes,” said Thomas King, president of the data and analytics division at J.D. Power. “Retail sales are up, transaction prices are at record levels and retailer profits are at all-time highs.”

General Motors announces U.S. plant investments

In other General Motors news, the automaker announced plans to invest $76 million in two of its U.S. manufacturing plants.

General Motors plans to invest $70 million into its Tonawanda, New York engine plant. In addition, it plans to invest more than $6 million into its metal stamping plant in Parma, Ohio.

“The Tonawanda investment will be used to increase capacity on the engine block machining line and the Parma investment will be used to construct four new metal assembly cells to support increased truck production volumes,” the company said in its announcement.

Actual metals price and trends

The U.S. HDG price rose 13.7% month over month to $1,167 per short ton as of Jan. 1.

The LME three-month copper price rose 1.0% to $7,757 per metric ton. U.S. shredded scrap surged 38.3% to $401 per short ton.

The Korean 5052 aluminum coil premium rose 4.8% to $3.49 per kilogram.

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This Morning in Metals: Ford, Mahindra end joint venture talks

This morning in metals news: Ford Motor Co. and Mahindra announced the mutual decision to end joint venture talks; the Energy Information Administration released its quarterly coal report; and,…

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joint venture puzzle pieces

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This morning in metals news: Ford Motor Co. and Mahindra announced the mutual decision to end joint venture talks; the Energy Information Administration released its quarterly coal report; and, finally, the zinc price has retraced.

Become part of the MetalMiner LinkedIn group and stay connected to trends we’re watching and interesting metal facts.

Ford, Mahindra end joint venture talks

A previously announced joint venture between Ford Motor Co. and Mahindra will not be going through, the companies announced recently.

The two companies had reached a deal back in October 2019, with a long-term expiration date of Dec. 31, 2020.

“According to the companies, the outcome was driven by fundamental changes in global economic and business conditions – caused, in part, by the global pandemic – over the past 15 months,” Ford said in a prepared statement. “Those changes influenced separate decisions by Ford and Mahindra to reassess their respective capital allocation priorities.”

Meanwhile, Ford said its independent operations in India will continue “as is.”

EIA releases quarterly coal report

In addition to the Ford-Mahindra joint venture news, the EIA released its quarterly coal report, reporting Q3 2020 production of 135.8 million short tons.

The output total in Q3 marked an increase of 17.9% from the previous quarter. However, Q3 2020 output declined 25.2% year over year.

Meanwhile, U.S. coal exports jumped 3.2% from Q2 to Q3, with the average export price reaching $89.18 per short ton.

On the other hand, 74.8% of U.S. coal imports came from Colombia.

Zinc price drops

Lastly, metals prices did slow down somewhat over the holiday season.

Among them, the LME three-month zinc price is down 1.52% over the past month. The zinc price closed 2020 at $2,745 per metric ton.

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