A group of 14 House Democrats and one Republican introduced legislation in Congress last week that would require the Federal Aviation Administration to involve local communities as it implements a new flight-navigation system called NextGen.
It is the second of two bills that, while well-intentioned, seem more designed to appease constituents than actually solve the problem with aircraft noise that is plaguing many metropolitan areas around the country, including the Peninsula.
The independent GovTrack.us gives both bills a 2 percent chance of being enacted.
The "FAA Community Accountability Act," a five-page bill that would require greater consultation with local residents before new approach and take-off routes and protocols are established, was introduced by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Phoenix). It would require the appointment of nine regional FAA "community ombudsmen" to serve as advocates for and liaisons to communities affected by FAA flight-routing changes. It would also require more public notice of changes and opportunities for public comment.
Most relevant for our area, it would require the FAA to reconsider flight path changes already made if the ombudsman or an airport notified it that the flight routes were "resulting in a significant adverse impact on the human environment in the vicinity of the airport." The FAA would then be required to make a public report assessing those impacts and describing changes to be made or the justification for not making any changes.
Another bill, introduced in July by New York Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens), does even less. The "Quiet Communities Act of 2015" (H.R. 3384) would re-establish a Noise Abatement Office within the Environmental Protection Agency with a broad mission to promote the development of effective state and local noise control programs, conduct noise research, develop educational materials on the effects of noise and to carry out a study of "airport noise" and the effectiveness of noise-abatement programs at airports around the country. The seven-page bill would appropriate $21 million to establish the new office, which was shut down during the Reagan Administration.
In the remote chance that either of these bills moves forward in a Congress that is getting little done on any front these days, they seek to address the problems not by legislating clear mandates but by establishing additional processes for public input. That is not nearly enough.
As has been quite clear from the work being done by concerned residents on the Peninsula and elsewhere around the nation, getting heard is not the problem. An arrogant federal agency has simply ignored the input and protests, including those from our local members of Congress.
Rep. Anna Eshoo, who is one of 14 co-sponsors of Gallego's bill and recently joined Meng's bill, issued a press release last week that gave both the bills and Eshoo's role more import than they deserve. Under the headline "Eshoo unveils legislative package to reform FAA," her office quoted her as saying "The bills I've introduced require the FAA to plan with communities when implementing NextGen, and restore the EPA's Office of Noise Abatement and Control, which was defunded more than three decades ago."
Although we're happy to see Eshoo co-sponsoring these bills, they hardly constitute a "legislative package" of reforms deserving of being heralded by a press release. We hope her primary efforts are continuing to focus on discussions directly with Administration and FAA officials and in trying to persuade Republican committee chairs to hold oversight hearings on the NextGen program.
There are only two ways residents of the Peninsula and other areas around the country might obtain relief from the excessive noise that has resulted from the FAA's new flight routing system: carefully drafted detailed legislation that has broad bipartisan support (which neither of these bills have) or political pressure from congressional Democrats brought to bear on the White House and the FAA.
Eshoo has already registered the concerns of her constituents in letters and conversations with the FAA. But rather than unlikely-to-succeed legislative efforts, we hope she works with other members of Congress to step up political pressure during the final year of the Obama administration.
Eshoo's constituents have come up with some sensible solutions of increasing the altitude at which planes cross over populated areas before reaching the bay and distributing the arrival flight paths over a larger area so the impact is shared more equally among communities.
The slow, virtually moribund legislative process isn't the answer. Hard ball politics is.