Buttigieg replaces Chao at DOT–time to make a move

Photo credit: AgnosticPreachersKid licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The U.S. Department of Transportation—the major nexus of the noise problem in the U.S.—has been led by Mitch McConnell’s wife, Elaine Lan Chao, during the Trump administration. Unsurprisingly, she has not addressed the hubris, intransigence, and industry influence that have prevented that agency from addressing noise as a well established and harmful environmental pollutant.

Now comes President-elect Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Transportation, former McKinsey consultant and mayor of South Bend Indiana, Pete Buttigieg. As he steps into Chao’s shoes in Biden’s cabinet, he’ll be the person on whom attention will need to focus. Does he understand noise as a public health and planetary problem? Is he willing to support policies for a quieter America? David Welprin, a New York assemblyman, sure thinks so. What will he need to act? And how can Quiet Communities and other like-minded organizations help him?

Pete Buttigieg is clear-headed about environmental issues and what needs to be done. One thing we can hope is that he’ll listen to the 50+ members of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and the 50+ regional groups that comprise the Quiet Skies Coalition. While those groups focus strictly on airport and aircraft noise, Secretary Buttigieg will have the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Railway Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, and others, reporting directly to him.

Organized efforts are needed to get the message to the new Secretary that noise is a public health problem and an environmental health problem. It’s a “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to air and water pollution, and another powerful reason to address those problems. When COVID-19 hit, a window opened on the possibility of a cleaner, quieter world. Look at how the skies gleamed bright blue when travel shut down. Look at how marine mammals’ health improved when ocean drilling and shipping halted–all that air and water pollution came from the industries that the DOT oversees. Secretary Buttigieg must be convinced to make those improvements permanent!

How can we help to influence him? We can start by identifying noise as a bellwether–a canary in the coal mine. Listening for noise in the environment works, because we can’t see most air and water pollution. As a result we often ignore it. But most of us hear the noise. So we all have a role to play.

Just by listening and reporting, we can all contribute to reducing the pollution that’s choking us and harming our children.

Now is our chance—the first time in four decades to reverse president Ronald Reagan’s 1981 actions that de-prioritized noise as a public health issue. After 40 years, we’ve reached a tipping point–it’s time to act!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Comments (4)

  1. kenneth s phillips

    How can I reach Buttagieg with a personal video explaining the scientific evidence for why NextGen is three times more noise than a major highway?

    1. David Sykes

      Well, you could give us a chance to see your video so we can consider including it in the package of things that we’ll want to put in front of Sec. Buttigieg–and the six other cabinet secretaries and senior WH advisers who comprise president-elect Biden’s “Climate Team.” The evidence is abundantly clear that the FAA’s GE-led NextGen does NOT solve or even address community noise problems, in fact, language about that was included in the FAA Re-Authorization Act that president Trump signed in October 2018. Nonetheless, the FAA has done little to nothing about implementing the new requirements. Secretary Buttigieg has the laws he needs to change this–the problem is making them a priority that is linked to Biden’s climate agenda. Your thoughts? Please let us know if you’d like to work together.

  2. Melissa Elstein

    Stop the Chop NYNJ is a nonprofit organization and coalition with our mission to ban nonessential helicopters over the NY Metropolitan area. We are a member of the Manhattan Borough President’s “Helicopter Task Force” referenced in NY Assemblymember David Weprin’s excellent oped (he is also a candidate for NYC Comptroller). Helicopter noise complaints have skyrocketed in NYC as tourist helicopters have dramatically increased in 2020 (as well as in recent years), though there was a short hiatus during the height of the pandemic in NYC. These gas guzzling, low-flying helicopters create needless stress for those in their tourist and tour paths (commuter helicopters are an issue as well). We have members all over the city, as well as in NJ and Long Island, who are suffering from the extreme noise and intensity of these unnecessary flights. Our website has a petition supporting the Maloney, Nadler, Velasquez bill to ban nonessential helicopters over densely populated cities. We would like to join your efforts and work together to address this important noise and environmental pollution issue that the Biden Administration now has the opportunity to resolve. We look forward to hearing back from you. Thanks! http://www.stopthechopnynj.org

  3. David M. Sykes

    Ms. Elstein: I believe we’ll be on a Zoom call together on Jan. 6–set up by Jamie Banks PhD, who is the Executive Director of our 501(c)3 “Quiet Communities, Inc.” (our program, The Quiet Coalition, is one of Quiet Communities’ four permanent programs. We are very eager to get in touch with Biden’s incoming climate team!
    The whole issue of community noise (of which aircraft/airport noise is a major component) needs to align with the climate agenda in order to gain a foothold in DC.
    We’ve waited 40 years for this moment, but the needed science and technology have progressed so that we can present a compelling, realistic case. We’re excited!


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