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Peters Floor Remarks in Support of FAA Reauthorization Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), spoke on the Senate floor today in support of the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018, bipartisan legislation that sets FAA policy for the next five years. Peters worked to include provisions in the bill to bolster airport security, support the educational use of unmanned aircraft systems, and help remove harmful PFAS chemicals from airport firefighting foams. Below is video and text of his remarks as prepared for delivery:

“I rise today in support of the bipartisan Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018. After six short-term extensions, ranging from one week to over a year, the Senate will soon pass comprehensive legislation that will set FAA policy until 2023. These short term extensions keep the lights on, but they deny us the opportunity to make meaningful changes and better serve the American people.

“I am a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and I am proud of all the Committee’s work that made this long-term reauthorization possible. I am especially thankful to our Committee Chairman, John Thune, and our Ranking Member, Bill Nelson, for their leadership throughout this process.

“This bill makes critical investments in airport infrastructure, promotes U.S. competition and leadership in aviation, increases safety in the national airspace system and strengthens customer service practices across the commercial aviation sector. The legislation also delivers strong support to rural communities in Michigan and across the nation by continuing the Essential Air Service, or EAS, Program. This program drives economic development and tourism while connecting local residents to world-class health care.

“I will never stop fighting to ensure that Michigan’s EAS airports, from Muskegon, to Hancock/Houghton, to Alpena, get the funding they need to serve their communities. In addition to driving sustained investment to rural communities, I support this long-term reauthorization because it gave me the opportunity to address a number of critical challenges facing our country.

“This bill includes provisions I authored that will help prepare our students for the high-tech jobs of today and tomorrow, secure public spaces in our airports and remove the outdated federal requirement that airports use firefighting foams containing fluorinated chemicals that contaminate groundwater and cause disastrous human health effects.

“The FAA Reauthorization of 2018 will improve the competitiveness of our nation’s workforce by clearing the way for our students and educators to use unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, for research, education, and job training.

“Whether it this technology is used for inspecting critical infrastructure or boosting crop yields at our farms, UAS technology will create tens of thousands of new jobs in the coming years, and we need American students and workers ready to fill them.

“This is why I worked across the aisle with Senator Moran to introduce the Higher Education Unmanned Air Systems Modernization Act and include it in this long-term FAA bill. This provision has the support of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the Association of American Universities – and dozens of other colleges and universities across the country. Our brightest minds will have the ability to design, refine and fly UAS to prepare our country for the safe integration of UAS into the national airspace system.

“In my home state of Michigan, Alpena Community College has created a UAS pilot training program that compliments existing certificate programs like utility technology certificate, making their graduates more competitive. This will support job creation across the income spectrum as our nation’s workforce will be able to get the training they need to operate these systems safely and efficiently.

“Ultimately, whether we are talking about UAS, passenger planes in the air, or travelers making their way through an airport, this is all about safety. In recent years we have seen high-profile attacks at airports around the world, but also here at home in Flint, Michigan. These attacks have demonstrated the vulnerabilities of heavily trafficked public areas outside of security screening, such as baggage claim and pick-up and drop-off areas.

“I heard from our international airport in Detroit and others across the country that current airport funding streams often cannot be used for security projects in public spaces. Their need for greater flexibility for airport infrastructure improvements led me and Senator Gardner to introduce the bipartisan Secure Airport Public Spaces Act, legislation that would increase safety and security for airport passengers and visitors outside of TSA-screen areas.

“A critical provision was incorporated into this reauthorization bill that will now allow airports to use Airport Improvement Program funds on state-of-the-art surveillance cameras in these public areas, which will help monitor, prevent and respond to potential attacks at airports across our nation.

“Finally, I’d like to discuss what could be our nation’s defining public health challenge for generations, a group of harmful chemicals known as PFAS. The PFAS class is a group of over forty-seven hundred man-made chemicals that have been used nationwide and internationally. These chemicals do not break down in the human body or the environment. They can accumulate over time and cause more harm.

“We already know there are several health effects associated with exposure to certain PFAS – compromised immune system function, cancers, endocrine disruption and cognitive effects. I’ve listened to the families exposed to PFAS in Michigan, but PFAS isn’t just a Michigan issue. We currently know that there are over 170 sites in 40 states that are contaminated with PFAS. PFAS are so pervasive that it is estimated that up to 110 million Americans could have these chemicals in their water. PFAS chemicals have been used for decades in a wide range of consumer products including textiles, paper products and cookware.

“In addition to all these uses, Mr. President, they have also been used in firefighting foams for decades. These foams have been used on military bases and commercial airports. They have been used near businesses and neighborhoods, near groundwater and surface water, near lakes and streams.

“Last week, I worked with Senator Rand Paul to convene a hearing in our Federal Spending Oversight Subcommittee that addressed the federal government’s role in PFAS. We heard firsthand about the impact of this public health crisis on community members, firefighters and veterans. Not only have these foams containing PFAS been used for decades, we are still requiring their use at American airports even as safe alternatives are being developed and deployed abroad.

“While there is a lot of work to be done related to remediation, human health research, filter technology and more we must stop making the problem worse. This is why I worked with Senators Sullivan, Stabenow, Rubio, Shaheen, Gillibrand and Hassan to lead a common sense addition to this FAA bill. Our bipartisan provision gives airports the option to use fluorine free foams. I also appreciate Congressman Kildee leading this effort in the House of Representatives.

“Using fluorine-free foams is not a novel idea, but it is an idea whose time has come. Over 70 airports around the world are already using fluorine-free foams that have passed the most challenging tests, and they have seen real success combating fires. These airports include major international hubs such as Dubai, London Heathrow, Manchester and Copenhagen. Every major airport in Australia has already made this transition. It is past time we caught up, and am I happy to say that this important legislation will, finally, allow American airports to embrace safe, innovative firefighting technologies and stop using fluorinated foams.

“I want to thank Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson, as well as Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer, for their work to pass this important bipartisan legislation.

“I urge my colleagues to support this critical long-term FAA reauthorization that will help keep PFAS out of our water, drive investment in our nation’s workforce and ensure that our airports and skies are safe."