Jim Burnley focuses his practice on government relations and regulatory and legislative affairs, with a concentration in transportation matters. Jim served as the U.S. secretary of transportation from 1987 to 1989 and is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on transportation law and policy. He also served as deputy secretary of transportation from 1983 to 1987 and was general counsel of the Department in 1983. Prior to his years with the USDOT, Jim served as associate deputy attorney general for the Justice Department and as director of the VISTA Program in the early 1980s.
Jim represents a wide array of transportation clients. Public policy issues in which he has been engaged include the continuing debate over public-private partnerships; climate change, including cap and trade proposals; the licensing of a privately financed multi-billion-dollar offshore LNG port; the impact of the volatility in petroleum prices on the airline and trucking industries; and statutory changes to increase trucking productivity.
With respect to efforts to attract private equity to U.S. transportation infrastructure, he advises clients on how to protect their legitimate interests while seeking transactions that are politically realistic. He also has extensive experience in more traditional publicly financed projects. For example, he co-chaired the coalition that successfully lobbied for the more than $2 billion required to replace the Wilson Bridge, which is a part of the Washington, DC Beltway.
As outside legislative counsel to American Airlines, Jim played a key role in the crafting and passage of the emergency Airline Transportation Stabilization Act, passed in the days after September 11, 2001 to help save the disaster-challenged U.S. airline industry. Among the provisions upon which he focused, the Act limited the liability of American and United Airlines and their agents at their multi-billion-dollar insurance limits, and it created a federal fund to compensate the victims and their families. He also worked on the provision providing for back-up federal terrorism insurance, without which most major air carriers would have faced grounding for the second time very soon after the attacks. Congressional Quarterly characterized enactment of this package as being "generally regarded as an unrivaled lobbying coup."
He has also represented a variety of clients on airport-related issues, such as nearby commercial projects that must be reviewed by the FAA to ensure compatibility with airport operations. He has represented airport operators on federal issues and airport vendors concerned about applicable federal regulations.
Jim was one of the leaders of a coalition of transportation and manufacturing interests, which won a congressional override of the Ergonomics Rule issued in the Clinton administration's final days.
In its 2013 edition, Global Law Experts recognized Jim as the top U.S. attorney in the Transportation category. The rankings organization chooses only one lawyer in each key practice area per country across the globe. Jim is also the 2013 and 2014 Client Choice Award winner for the United States and the District of Columbia in the Shipping and Transport category. The sponsoring organizations make the awards to lawyers "globally that stand apart for the excellent client care they provide."