Been tied up with chess stuff and other topics here.
“Congressional Republicans and former Trump administration officials owe East Palestine an apology for selling them out to rail industry lobbyists when they dismantled Obama-Biden rail safety protections as well as EPA powers to rapidly contain spills,” said White House spokesperson Andrew Bates.
Bates challenged Republican lawmakers to put the protections back into effect, increase fines, and boost Environmental Protection Agency funding.
“There is only one way they can prove that they are finally disowning their long history of giveaways to rail industry management at the expense of communities like East Palestine: work across the aisle with us to put Obama-Biden protections back in place and go further, including with higher fines for rail pollution and properly equipping the EPA,” he said.
In a 2021 letter surfaced by the White House, more than 20 Republican Senators asked the Federal Railroad Administration to waive human track inspections and increase automation. The White House writes that “this was a priority of the rail lobby at the time.”
According to Politico, “Trump’s administration withdrew an Obama-era proposal to require faster brakes on trains carrying highly flammable materials, ended regular rail safety audits of railroads, and mothballed a pending rule requiring freight trains to have at least two crew members.”
Republicans have questioned President Joe Biden’s handling of the crisis as he traveled overseas to mark the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg comes under increasing fire.
The Biden administration and some lawmakers’ call for new freight railroad safety rules could face the same industry lobbying opposition that past attempts have encountered.
In the wake of the East Palestine, Ohio, derailment, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg rolled out an agenda for overhauling rail safety. It includes requiring at least two crew members to staff each train.
The secretary also touted a potential rule to require electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes on certain trains and called on Congress to phase in higher tank car standards at a faster pace (Greenwire, Feb. 21).
“Profit and expediency must never outweigh the safety of the American people,” he said in a statement. “We at USDOT are doing everything in our power to improve rail safety, and we insist that the rail industry do the same — while inviting Congress to work with us to raise the bar.”
All four senators representing Pennsylvania and Ohio, including Ohio Republican J.D. Vance, are also expressing support for new safety rules to prevent future disasters, including new crew size requirements.
“The one issue we have to be careful about is we don’t let Norfolk Southern off the hook,” Vance said during recent remarks.
The Association of American Railroads — the freight rail industry’s main lobbying group, which counts as a member Norfolk Southern Corp. — has called for policymakers to hold off on pursuing policy changes while the National Transportation Safety Board investigates.
“The NTSB’s independent investigators continue their work to identify the accident’s root cause and contributing factors,” AAR President Ian Jeffries said in a statement this week.
“That investigation must continue unimpeded by politics and speculation so NTSB’s findings can guide what additional measures may have prevented this accident,” said Jeffries.
“All stakeholders — railroads along with federal, state and local officials — must work to restore the public’s trust in the safety and security of our communities. We can only do that by letting the facts drive the post-accident response. At this time, the focus must be on the most pressing issue at hand — ensuring the community of East Palestine has all the support they need as it moves forward.”
Indeed, the powerful industry has for years worked to block, delay or reverse safety regulations, usually under the argument that they would be cost prohibitive or would not improve safety.
The freight rail industry has spent more than $254 million lobbying the federal government in the last decade, according to federal disclosures compiled by OpenSecrets.
In that same period, industry employees and political action committees gave $43.6 million to federal election campaigns, with most of the money going to Republicans, according to OpenSecrets data.
It’s too early to tell what exactly caused the derailment or if any policy changes could have prevented it, but industry critics are nonetheless criticizing the rail industry’s lobbying.
“Rather than support these efforts to improve rail safety, Norfolk Southern and other rail companies spent millions of dollars in the courts and lobbying members of Congress to oppose common-sense safety regulations, stopping some entirely and reducing the scope of others,” Buttigieg wrote to Norfolk Southern in a recent letter.
He was referring to the electronic braking rule developed under the Obama administration. Lawmakers included a provision in bipartisan 2015 transportation legislation asking regulators to reconsider the regulation. The Trump administration then scrapped it.
“Something’s wrong with Congress and administrations listening too much to corporate lobbyists,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.
Lawmakers included a provision in bipartisan 2015 transportation legislation asking regulators to reconsider the regulation.
That's a big part of a lot of problems. The legislature gives the executive the choice. JMHO