Earlier in the lame duck session the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee published their report on S 546, the RESPONSE Act that was passed in the Senate back in May. The Committee made some minor revisions to the bill and that revised version will be considered on the floor of the House today under suspension of the rules. This means that the Republican leadership expects the bill to pass with substantial bipartisan support.
The revisions made by the Committee in September did not reverse any of the changes made by the Senate in the original language (the same language seen in HR 1043). It did, however include:
• Adding the PHMSA Chief Safety Officer to, and removing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Chief Safety Officer from, the RESPONSE Subcommittee;
• Adding ‘Rail Labor’ to the types of non-governmental organizations to be represented on the Subcommittee;
• Removing requirements for twice-annual subsequent meetings of the Subcommittee;
• Removing provisions allowing the Transportation Secretary to extend the life of the Subcommittee; and
• Changing the termination of the Subcommittee to 90-days after submission of their report.
This bill will almost certainly pass in today’s session in the House. There is a strong likelihood that the amended bill will be reconsidered in the Senate, probably under their unanimous consent provisions and sent to the President.
This is another good example of Congress pushing the requirement to develop effective regulation of a complex topic to the relative expertise found in the Executive Branch (with outside technical assistance). Congress will still, of course, have to take the recommendations of the Subcommittee and turn it into actual legislation. This has met with mixed success in the past, but we can always hope that something good will come out of this effort.
The major drawback to this type legislative development is that it will take some amount of time (at least a year) for the Subcommittee to do its work and then even more time (maybe two more years) for Congress to act on that report and then even more time (three to five years) to develop the regulations needed to put that legislation into effect. This is why problems take so long to be ‘effectively’ addressed by the government.
In the meantime, if we have another major crude oil incident where there is a major loss of life or property damage due to a poor response by local agencies, we can expect a knee-jerk over-reaction by Congress that will mandate immediate implementation of poorly understood response activities that will only end up making matters worse. Fortunately, low crude oil prices have reduced the number of crude-oil trains substantially, reducing the chances of a catastrophic accident.