Monday, July 28, 2014

S 2547 Introduced – RR Emergency Response

As I noted earlier Sen. Heitkamp (D,ND) introduced S 2547, the RESPONSE Act of 2014. The bill would amend 6 USC 318 and establish a new subcommittee of the National Advisory Council, an independent federal advisory committee that provides emergency response and planning advise to the NPPD Deputy Administrator for FEMA. The new subcommittee, the Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs, and Safety Evaluation (RESPONSE) Subcommittee would provide recommendations on emergency responder training and resources relating to hazardous materials incidents involving railroads.

The RESPONSE Subcommittee

This is a ‘subcommittee’ in name only as most of its members would not come from the National Advisory Council (NAC). Statutory members would include {§318(d)(2)}:

• NPPD Deputy Administrator for FEMA (Chair);
• Director of the Office of Emergency Communications, DHS;
• NTSB Director for the Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations;
• FRA Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety;
• TSA Assistant Administrator for Security Policy and Industry Engagement;
• Coast Guard Assistant Commandant for Response Policy;
• EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response;
• PHMSA Associate Administrator for Hazardous Materials Safety;
• FMCSA Chief Safety Officer and Assistant Administrator;

Appropriate members of the NAC would be appointed to the RESPONSE sub-committee as would other personnel from the oil, railroad and communications industries.

RESPONSE Recommendations

The bill would require the RESPONSE Subcommittee to develop recommendations to improve emergency responder training and resource allocation. The following areas are to be specifically addressed {§318(d)(6)}:

• Quality and application of training for local emergency first responders related to rail hazardous materials incidents;
• Effectiveness of funding levels related to training local emergency responders for rail hazardous materials incidents;
• Strategy for integration of commodity flow studies, mapping, and access platforms for local emergency responders;
• The lack of emergency response plans for rail, similar to existing law related to maritime and stationary facility emergency response plans;
• Development of a train incident database;
• Increasing access to relevant, useful, and timely information for the local emergency responder; and
• Determination of the most efficient agencies and offices for the implementation of the Subcommittee’s recommendations.

The problem with this bill is that it brings too many people to the table. Legitimately, the people listed in the bill all have something to contribute; but there are too many folks to effectively get anything done. The tasking probably should have been given to FEMA who then would have been directed to ‘consult with’ the agencies listed. As it is the Assistant Administrator for FEMA will have to try to herd all of the cats listed instead of actually trying to solve the problem.

Moving Forward

I suspect that this bill would have no problems passing in the Senate or the House; it is after all another pass-the-buck-to-a-committee bill that effectively costs nothing. The problem will be that this late in the session, it will be difficult for the bill to find its way to the floor for a vote. If it is considered in the Senate before the election (almost certainly after the summer recess at best) it will probably be one of those bills brought to the floor at the end of the day and considered by ‘unanimous consent’. In the House it will be considered on a Monday or Tuesday under ‘suspension of the rules’ provisions. The key to passage will be convincing the leadership to bring it to the floor.

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