Tuesday, June 30, 2015

HR 2577 Reported in Senate – FY 2016 THUD

Last week the Senate Appropriation Committee amended HR 2577, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations Act, 2016, by adopting substitute language and reported the amended bill favorably. Substantial changes were made to the bill and all of the floor amendments adopted by the House were eliminated in the new Senate version.

As with the base House version there is no specific mention of hazardous chemical transportation issues in the Senate version. There is a cybersecurity provision in the bill (that was also in the House version) that may now be interesting in light of the OPM hack. The bill includes DOT HQ spending of $8 Million dollars for:

“…necessary expenses for cyber security initiatives, including necessary upgrades to wide area network and information technology infrastructure, improvement of network perimeter controls and identity management, testing and assessment of information technology against business, security, and other requirements, implementation of Federal cyber security initiatives and information infrastructure enhancements, implementation of enhanced security controls on network devices, and enhancement of cyber security workforce training tools…” (pg 171)

Commentary: While $8 Million would be a sizeable increase to my personal budget, for a Department as large as DOT I would bet that it really does not buy much cybersecurity.

While the bill itself did not have much to say about hazmat transportation issues the same could not be said for the report that accompanied the revised bill. This is not unusual for spending bills that even with just high level spending mentioned run into the hundreds of pages. The Report allows for addressing some of the programmatic spending on selected issues of interest to the Committee.

Federal Railroad Administration

As one would expect given the on-going controversy over shipping of crude oil by train, the Committee chimed in on this issue. First it provided more money (an extra $3.4 Million) “to support FRA’s efforts to improve the safe transport of energy products. The STEP initiative supports additional crude oil safety inspectors, crude oil route safety managers, and tank car quality assurance specialists, as well as supports increased mileage of a dedicated Automated Track Inspection Program vehicle on routes with energy products traffic”(pgs 66-7).  It then added $2.0 Million “to further the Short Line Safety Institute’s mission, including continued efforts to improve the safe transportation of crude oil and other hazardous materials by rail”
(pgs 67-8).

The Committee also noted that they expect the next major STEP controversy to be the transportation of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) by rail. The Committee included $2.0 Million for FRA and PHMSA to accelerate the “research and development on the safe transportation of LNG” (pg 68). The Committee believes that this should allow the completion of work started this year.

Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration

PHMSA has been the lead agency for most of the regulations of crude oil transportation, so they received the most attention from the Committee on this topic. Those comments addressed three areas:

Crude oil shipment across various modes of transportation;
Crude oil volatility; and
Comprehensive oil spill response plans.

On the first topic the Committee wants a detailed report to Congress on the comparative safety of shipping oil by rail, pipeline, or truck. It would specifically include a listing by transportation mode of the total amount of crude oil shipped and the total amount spilled. The report conclusions would include a recommendation on the safest mode of transportation as well as “necessary measures to improve the safety of each form of transportation” (pg 91).

The Committee acknowledges the complexity of the issue of determining combustibility of crude oil (the basis for concern about volatility) and directs DOT to continue to work with the Department of Energy to “complete the second phase of the Department of Energy’s study on oil volatility” (pg 91).

The Committee expressed their disappointment that PHMSA has not moved fast enough on their rulemaking efforts concerning oil spill response plans for crude oil shipped by rail. This disappointment is aggrevated by the fact that additional funding had been provided for that rulemaking effort. To make their position absolutely clear the Committee is directing “PHMSA to initiate a rulemaking to expand the applicability of comprehensive oil spill response plans to rail carriers within 90 days of enactment of this act and to issue a final rule no later than 1 year after enactment of this act” (pg91).

The report also addresses the importance of protecting the integrity of pipelines at river crossings. Given the direct and immediate impact on water quality and safety issues of a pipeline failure under a riverbed, the Committee is requiring a report on “how real-time monitoring during flood events and pertinent data from other agencies such as the United States Geological Survey is being used to address challenges associated with the dynamic and unique nature of rivers and flood plains” (pg 93).

Moving Forward

If the Republicans and Democrats in the Senate can resolve their differences on the sequestration issue, there is a chance that this bill could make its way to the floor of the Senate before the summer break in August. If the Defense spending bill does not make it to the floor before that recess, I suspect none of the spending bills will and we will be worrying about a continuing resolution come the end of September.

If this bill does make it to the floor there will be a lengthy amendment process with a large number of additions of programs and spending amounts for various infrastructure projects. If spending caps remain in place (as I expect they will) the costs of those projects will have to come from administrative costs elsewhere in the bill. There will be a lot of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

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