Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Safe Transportation and Energy Products Fund

Last Friday sixteen Democrats sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies requesting that they include in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) spending bill for FY 2015 (now being written by that Subcommittee) an unspecified amount of money for a new Safe Transportation and Energy Products Fund.

According to that letter actual authorization language for that Fund would be included in a rail transportation program bill to be introduced later this year. Interestingly only two of the Senators {Boxer (D,CA) and Walsh (D,MT)} that have signed this letter are on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Committee responsible for crafting such legislation.

The letter lists the following DOT activities that would benefit from this fund:

• More expeditious rulemakings;
• Technical studies;
• Increased rail and energy product inspections;
• Safety mitigation and response planning;
• First responder training;
• Community outreach; and
• Additional resources to complete Operation Backpressure [I think they mean Operation Classification]

With the exception of ‘more expeditious rulemakings' additional funds would allow FRA and PHMSA to expand their efforts in the above listed areas. That additional work would help to make the rail transportation of energy chemicals (particularly crude oil and ethanol) safer.

It is unusual, however, that such a letter was not signed by the Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The chair of a committee with oversight responsibilities is expected to help provide guidance to the Appropriations Committee on the allocation of funds for the various agencies and departments of the government. And Sen. Rockefeller (D,WV) has not been reticent in making such communications.

The absence of Rockefeller’s signature or that of Sen. Blumenthal (D,CT; the Chair of the Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security Subcommittee) suggests that there is not a current effort in the Committee to include any language in a rail transportation program authorization bill for this fund.

In fact, this looks like an effort to bypass Sen. Rockefeller, typically an effort that is bound to fail.

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