‘A little premature’: Republicans urge Congress not to rush rail rules


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Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott, who has criticized Buttigieg for waiting three weeks to visit the site of the Feb. 3 accident, tweeting last week that Buttigieg should “show up, do your job and stop playing politics.”

Asked on Tuesday what Congress should do after the Ohio derailment, Scott would only say that lawmakers should “start doing our oversight and stop approving people that don’t know how to do the job.”

Other Republicans say they want to wait until the National Transportation Safety Board, the independent agency probing the accident, finishes its work. That could take up to 18 months.

“A lot of people have a lot of ideas right now,” Nehls told POLITICO. “The NTSB had their preliminary report. There’ll be more information coming.”

One of DOT’s requests for Congress is an increase in the maximum penalties to railroads for safety violations — an idea Nehls dismissed, instead praising the industry’s safety record.

“The rail industry has a very high success rate of moving hazardous material — to the point of 99-percent-plus,” Nehls said. “Let’s not have more burdensome regulations and all this other stuff.”

Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), who served as top Republican on the rail panel before the House flipped control, agreed on waiting for the experts to weigh in “before we start speculating on what legislative fixes might be offered, if it’s necessary, and if so what would they be.”

“Probably a little premature at this point,” he added.

And Graves told Fox News Digital on Feb. 16 that he wants to “fully understand the facts involved” before considering legislation, noting that the NTSB is still investigating. Then, he said, “Congress can consider what steps may be necessary.”

Democrats on the whole have been much swifter to call for changes — including Buttigieg, who has pledged to tighten the way his agency regulates trains, but has also asked Congress to increase the $225,455 cap on fines his agency can level and to strengthen braking and tank car requirements.

A few Republicans are showing signs they’re willing to join Democrats sooner rather than later.

Ohio Republican Sen. J.D. Vance, for example, is working with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) on a rail-safety bill expected to be out soon. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who has called for Buttigieg’s resignation over the derailment, has said he’s interested in teaming up on their bill.

“There’s a Vance-Sherrod Brown bill that we’re looking at, that we’re very interested in maybe being a part of,” Rubio said in an interview Tuesday.

Brown said the bill he’s working on will likely include provisions including setting minimum requirements for how many employees should be on board a train, along with train length, speed limits and notifications to states when hazardous materials are on their way, he told reporters Tuesday.

He noted that the 150-car train that derailed in East Palestine, carrying hazardous chemicals such as vinyl chloride, had “one trainee and two staff people” aboard when the disaster occurred.

A Brown-Vance team-up may seem to some like an odd couple pairing, but Rubio and Vance previously wrote to Buttigieg asking whether a two-person crew is adequate. Democrats have pushed to enshrine a two-person minimum crew in federal regulations, a move opposed by the railroad industry and, historically, most Republicans. The Trump administration backed the railroad industry when it mothballed a rule that would have mandated at least two crewmembers on board every train. That rule had originally been proposed under the Obama administration.

“Republicans have seen what’s happened, too,” Brown said, explaining the bipartisan interest he’s seen so far. “The rail companies have done pretty effective lobbying in keeping Congress and the administration, the [Federal Railroad Administration] and others from doing what we ought to be doing.”

Indeed, Rubio said Tuesday that the freight rail industry’s “push for efficiency — the desire to put more cargo, longer lines, longer stretches and less people” — creates vulnerabilities.

“We have not just dangerous but important cargo being transported on longer [trains] with less people,” he said.

Other legislation has been floated in the House. Rep. Chris Deluzio (D-Pa.), whose district includes the area affected by the Ohio spill, has introduced a bill along with a dozen other Democrats that seeks to include more types of trains under stricter laws governing hazardous materials transport. That means more types of materials would be subject to tougher safety requirements such as slower speeds, newer rail cars and better braking equipment.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on the derailment, featuring the Environmental Protection Agency, top committee Republican Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said Tuesday. She said the Senate Commerce Committee would also hold a hearing, though as yet nothing has been scheduled.

Like many of her GOP colleagues, Capito didn’t have many positive words for the Biden administration.

The federal response to the derailment “has been, I think, miserable to watch,” she said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had sounded a similar theme Monday, accusing Buttigieg of seeming “more interested in pursuing press coverage for woke initiatives and climate nonsense than in attending to the basic elements of his day job.”

But so far, McConnell hasn’t said what, if any, legislation he thinks is needed to make rail safer.

Buttigieg shot back Tuesday.

“The freight rail industry has wielded a lot of power here in Washington,” he said on CNN. “I would love to see Leader McConnell join us in standing up to them.”

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( With inputs from : www.politico.com )

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