Transportation Secretary Neil Goldschmidt received a warm reception from the Senate Commerce Committee at his confirmation hearing here yesterday as he stressed the need for transportation policies to play a strong role in solving the nation's energy problems.
Pointing out that transportation consumes more than half of the petroleum used in the United States, Goldschmidt spoke of the need for a balanced, integrated transportation network. He said that not only do mass transit systems need to be bolstered, but also the automobile must be made more efficient.
However, he backed away from former secretary Brock Adams' campaign calling on Detroit to "reinvent the automobile" and develop a 50 mpg car. Goldschmidt said, "I don't think I could give you a target [Mileage] figure today." He said he wanted to meet with auto manufacturers and study the subject more.
In a press conference after the hearing, Goldschmidt said that he does not want to see a major battle over who should design an efficient auto, that he wants competition in the industry, but that the Department of Transportation should have a management role.
In prepared answers to questions submitted before the hearing, Goldschmidt stressed his belief in transportation balance when he was asked about the possibility of an electric car. "Were all commuters to shift to electric cars to make [rush hour] trips, the results would still be a clogged freeway," he said.
Goldschmidt made these other points in testimony, in his written comments and in the press conference:
He supports some kind of federal aid for maintenance of federally funded highway projects as well as other federally funded investments. Sections of the interstate highway system, 90 percent of which was built with federal dollars, are falling apart. Maintenance, however, is a state responsibility and many states -- Pennsylvania and Illinois to name two prominent examples -- have done shoddy maintenance.
He will create "a blue ribbon panel to review the capacity of the Federal Aviation Administration to carry out its obligation to ensure safe airline travel . . . " In an interview he said that he was not criticizing present FAA efforts, but that "there is general concern in the environment of [airline] deregulation about the current level of air safety."
He personally feels that some kind of federal help for the troubled Chrysler Corp. would be in the public interest, but "I think it can be done without making the corporation a child of the federal government."
The Federal Railway Administration, one of his agencies, needs more people right now to deal with major railroad problems, including the bankruptcies of the Milwaukee Road and Rock Island, two of many troubled midwestern roads.
He personally feels that subsidies for Amtrak are not necessarily wrong "but that may not be the president's view if we cannot provide improved management" of Amtrak.He asked whether Congress might like to give his department more authority over Amtrak, but stressed he was not making a firm proposal. The department has a member on the Amtrak board.
He said he had been "absolutely" guaranteed access to President Carter when he seeks it. Former secretary Adams had suggested just before he was fired that access was becoming a problem.
Sen. Howard W. Cannon (D-Nev.), chairman of the committee, said it would be at least a week before the committee finishes reviewing Goldschmidt's written reports and other work. He called Goldschmidt's appearance "very impressive" and said he anticipated no problems with his confirmation.
Goldschmidt has already been sworn in as secretary on a "recessed appointment" that came while Congress was out of town, but he is still subject to Senate confirmation.