Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
March 3, 2015

Posts in "Environment"

February 27, 2015

Transportation Budget Has $3 Million For Nuclear Ship

 

(Image courtesy of http://www.nssavannah.net/)

(Image courtesy of http://www.nssavannah.net/)

Tucked in President Obama’s $94.7 billion Fiscal Year 2016 budget request for the Department of Transportation is $3 million for a ship berthed in Baltimore which has carried neither cargo nor passengers since 1970.

The Maritime Administration is seeking the money for maintenance and “radiological protection” for the nuclear-powered merchant ship Savannah, a National Historic Landmark and an artifact of the Eisenhower Era.

To anyone concerned about fossil fuel pollution, a merchant fleet with no carbon dioxide or sulfur emissions might seem appealing.

Full story

February 25, 2015

Decline In Military Shipments Endangers Merchant Fleet

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R- Calif. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R- Calif. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The struggle to preserve the U.S. merchant shipping fleet played out on three fronts Wednesday at a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

First: while the drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan may be welcome news for stressed-out military families, it’s not good news for the merchant fleet.

Paul Jaenichen, the head of the Maritime Administration, told the subcommittee that the declining volume of Defense Department cargo due to the withdrawal of most U.S. forces from Afghanistan and Iraq “coupled with a more than 80 percent reduction in personnel and military bases overseas since 1990” is hurting the U.S. merchant fleet.

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February 23, 2015

Week Ahead: Tolling, Flight Tracking, Energy Shipping

Sen. James Inhofe, R- Okla., and Rep. Bill Shuster, R- Pa., will both address the AASHTO conference this week. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. James Inhofe, R- Okla., and Rep. Bill Shuster, R- Pa., will both address the AASHTO conference this week. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

It will be a busy week in Washington for transportation policy, with hearings, speeches, and panel discussions on everything from better tracking of airline flights to tolling on interstates.

Tuesday

The Mileage Based User Fee Alliance holds its second annual conference in Washington.

The Alliance includes state departments of transportation and contractors in the tolling business. Panelists will discuss such topics as California’s Road Usage Charge Pilot Program.

Full story

February 20, 2015

Week In Review: Derailment, Delay, And Delta’s CEO

Delta CEO Richard Anderson (Photo credit Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Delta CEO Richard Anderson (Photo credit Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

This week was dominated by the derailment of an oil train near Mount Carbon, W.V. The accident, which caused explosions and fires and destroyed one house, illustrated the risks that towns and cities face as Bakken crude from North Dakota makes the journey from the oil well to the tank of your car.

Full story

February 18, 2015

Derailment Complicates Regulators’ Rule-Making Task

Sen. John Thune, R- S.D., right, is one of the farm state lawmakers keenly interested in rail congestion  (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. John Thune, R- S.D., right, is one of the farm state lawmakers keenly interested in rail congestion (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Monday’s derailment in West Virginia of a CSX train carrying crude oil occurred at a politically sensitive point as the Obama administration is working on a long-awaited proposed regulation on tank cars that carry oil and ethanol.

Just two weeks ago, at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on the pending tank car rule, members voiced frustration about the uncertainty that the administration has created by its slowness in issuing the rule.

The derailment “is just another example of why the federal government must act,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking Democrat Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon said Wednesday. “The federal government should not delay further — it must issue the new rules for safer rail tank cars as soon as possible.”

Full story

Foxx Sees Innovation Out-Running Regulation

Transportation Secretary Foxx inspects a self-driving car at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. on Feb. 2 (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Transportation Secretary Foxx inspects a self-driving car at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. on Feb. 2 (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In our interview Friday with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, he suggested that the pace of technological innovation in transportation is out-running the ability of federal regulators to devise rules governing the use of that technology.

He pointed out that rule-making by federal agencies, which entails a lengthy preparatory phase, a cost-benefit analysis by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, then a public comment period, and a round of refining of the final rule, “is designed to ensure that when rules do come out there’s been a thorough look at whether there are alternatives or whether there’s a better way to get there.”

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February 17, 2015

W.V. Derailment A Reminder Of Delay In Tank Car Rule

An oil train derailment, explosion, and fire near Mount Carbon, W.V., Monday seems likely to increase pressure on the Obama administration to speed the release of a regulation to require more robust oil tank cars.

“You don’t see the Kanawha River on fire every day,” reporter Bob Aaron, who was the scene, said on Charleston television station WCHS Monday after the train derailed and at least one tank car went into the river. “It is a huge, huge ball of flame.”

CSX said in a statement Monday that “at least one rail car appears to have ruptured and caught fire.”

The railroad said its workers were cooperating “with first responders to address the fire, to determine how many rail cars derailed, and to deploy environmental protective measures and monitoring on land, air and in the nearby Kanawha River.”

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February 12, 2015

Mass Transit Project Awaits Army Corps Permit

Rep. Mike Honda, D- Calif.  (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Mike Honda, D- Calif. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

When you hear “Army Corps of Engineers,” you may think of Mississippi River levees. But the Corps’ decisions can also affect mass transit.

Case in point: Rep. Mike Honda, D- Calif., is prodding Corps leaders on why the Santa Clara Valley Water District hasn’t yet received a permit from the Corps that would allow it to finish a flood control project on the Lower Berryessa Creek.

That project is crucial to the opening of a new Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in Honda’s district.

The California Democrat has been working for years to extend BART to the Silicon Valley and got $900 million in federal funding for the BART extension.

Full story

February 10, 2015

Manufacturers Eyeing Fate Of NW Coal Export Terminals

A coal-fired power plant in northeast China's Jilin province.(Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

A coal-fired power plant in northeast China’s Jilin province.(Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Will there still be a demand for U.S. coal in places such as China if state and federal regulators finally decide to allow exports from two proposed terminals in the Pacific Northwest?

Whether the administration of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington allows coal to be shipped from the proposed terminals in his state is a question that will take years to answer.

The state is taking into account the environmental effects of the burning of coal in China and other foreign countries if it’s exported from Washington state terminals.

Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers is pondering a request from the Lummi Indian nation that it reject a permit application for the proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point, Wash., about 13 miles from the U.S.-Canada border.

The Lummi argue that the increased ship traffic would endanger the tribe’s fishing grounds.

One coal industry ally, National Association of Manufacturers president Jay Timmons, was at the state capitol in Olympia Monday to urge the state to OK the terminals.

Full story

February 6, 2015

Derailment A Reminder That Ethanol, Too, Moves By Rail

Gas pump on  Nov. 15, 2013 in Pembroke Pines, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Gas pump on Nov. 15, 2013 in Pembroke Pines, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The train derailment which spilled ethanol into the Mississippi River on Wednesday north of Dubuque, Iowa was a reminder that amid the debate about safe shipments of crude oil, ethanol traffic on the nation’s railroads remains a significant business.

According to the LaCrosse Tribune, three rail tank cars carrying ethanol caught fire and at least eight leaked their contents after a train derailed along a stretch of Canadian Pacific track on the bank of the Mississippi River.

At a House hearing this week on “How the Changing Energy Markets Will Affect U.S. Transportation,” almost all the discussion was about rail and pipeline shipments of oil. The word “ethanol” was not mentioned.

According to the most recent available data from the Association of American Railroads, more than 306,000 carloads of ethanol were carried by railroads in 2012. That was 1 percent of total railroad carloads, up from just 0.3 percent in 2003.

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February 3, 2015

Members Fume Over Delayed Oil Tank Car Rule

Rep. Jeff Denham, R- Calif., chairman of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call)

Rep. Jeff Denham, R- Calif., chairman of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call)

Another House hearing and another regulatory agency under bipartisan fire for its slowness in issuing an eagerly awaited rule that will have sweeping effects on several industries.

Tuesday’s hearing of the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads Pipelines and Hazardous Materials was a chance for members and industry spokesmen to assail the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) not issuing a rule that would tell railroads and rail car manufacturers the standard they need to meet for new oil tank cars.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member Peter DeFazio said that even though PHMSA has known that the older tank cars, designated as DOT-111’s, “are not adequate or safe since 1993, PHMSA has yet to promulgate a rule for new standards. In fact, the industry itself is so frustrated that they’ve proposed a new standard to the agency.”

But the agency couldn’t act quickly, he said and the rule is “lost somewhere in the bowels of the administration between the agency and the trolls over at the Office of Management and Budget who will further delay the ruling.”

PHMSA has “managed to mangle the rule by merging it together with operational issues which are much more difficult to deal with and controversial,” DeFazio said. Full story

January 30, 2015

A Look Back: Cuomo, Coons, Coal, Climate Change

A bulldozer operates atop a coal mound in Shelbiana, Ky. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

A bulldozer operates atop a coal mound in Shelbiana, Ky. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

This week we looked at the buzz over a new revenue source for the nation’s highways and transit systems. Sen. Rand Paul, R- Ky., Sen. Barbara Boxer, D- Calif., Rep. John Delaney, D- Md., and others are proposing ways to tax repatriated profits and fill the Highway Trust Fund.

Think big – $170 billion, Delaney says. We’re a long way from a committee markup, but things seem to be moving.

We also used the appearance of Henry Kissinger before the Senate Armed Services Committee to revisit the perennial struggle of “guns versus butter,” or America’s overseas commitments versus its domestic needs (like subways, buses, and tunnels).

Kissinger once worked for a man who said, “Until we make public transportation an attractive alternative to private car use, we will never be able to build highways fast enough to avoid congestion.” That was in 1969. Are we there yet?

As well as congestion this week we also examined Cuomo, climate change, Chris Coons, and coal.

In that order:

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York ordered highways closed and commuter railroad and subway service to halt at 11pm Monday in the face of a blizzard, which in the end turned out to be a bit underwhelming, at least in New York. We looked at the economic winners and losers from the storm.
  • The Senate voted to disagree with the idea that “more frequent and intense extreme weather events” are damaging the nation’s highways, subways, and ports. It voted to kill an amendment to the Keystone XL pipeline bill offered by Sen. Chris Coons, D- Del., that he said “simply acknowledges that climate change is having an impact on our infrastructure” and doesn’t blame humans for it.
  • Burning coal to produce electricity allowed me to write this and allows you to read it, at least if you’re in one of the regions of the country where coal is heavily used, as in the Mid-Atlantic States. Burning coal produces carbon dioxide and, many scientists say, it contributes to climate change.

But railroads make money by moving coal from mine to power plant.

We heard this week from Norfolk Southern how a decline in coal shipments is hurting the railroad’s bottom line.

Overseas Cash Alluring Idea For Infrastructure Funds

Rep. John Delaney, D - Md., during his 2012 campaign. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. John Delaney, D – Md., during his 2012 campaign. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In his Fiscal Year 2015 budget last March, President Obama said he wanted to use “one-time transition revenue resulting from business tax reform” to pay for highways, roads and transit systems.

Now Rep. John Delaney, D- Md., has introduced a bill that fills in details of a concept about which Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, and several others have been thinking aloud: pay for infrastructure with tax revenue from repatriated profits of U.S. corporations.

But Delaney said his bill is “much more comprehensive” than what Obama sketched out last March.

Delaney’s measure would impose an 8.75 percent tax on overseas profits and would, he said, raise $170 billion, more than enough to both fill the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund for six years and to create a new $50 billion infrastructure funding entity.

It would also give Congress what he called “a nice long runway” for lawmakers to devise ways to cope with the anticipated decline in revenues from taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel.

Full story

January 29, 2015

Kissinger A Reminder Of Strategic/Transit Trade-Offs

Protesters confront former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Protesters confront former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The connection between international strategy and mass transit might seem tenuous.

But Thursday’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on Iran, nuclear weapons, and related matters was a reminder of the lasting tension between spending money on domestic needs, such as transit, and overseas commitments.

In 1969, Kissinger faced the same choices when he served as President Nixon’s national security.

In his memoirs, White House Years, Kissinger writes that he and Nixon in 1969 had to decide what U.S. strategy would be in Europe to defend against potential Russian, (or Soviet as it was then) aggression.

One option was to build up U.S. nuclear forces based in Europe; another option was to build up U.S. conventional (non-nuclear) forces stationed there. Full story

Senate Rejects Climate Change Infrastructure Measure

Sen. Chris Coons, D- Del., answers questions from reporters (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Chris Coons, D- Del., answers questions from reporters (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate went on record Wednesday as disagreeing with the idea that “more frequent and intense extreme weather events” are damaging the nation’s roads, bridges, railroads, and ports.

This was despite the billions of dollars in damage to the subways, highways, and other infrastructure in New York and New Jersey by Super Storm Sandy in 2012, to cite just one case.

By a vote of 47 to 51, with 60 votes needed for passage, the Senate rejected a sense of the Senate amendment to the Keystone XL pipeline bill offered by Sen. Chris Coons, D- Del., which wouldn’t have directly affected funding or regulation, but which included the perhaps fatal words “climate change.”

Coons tried to assuage opposition by noting “this amendment does not speak to the human role in climate change or emissions; it simply acknowledges that climate change is having an impact on our infrastructure.”

Full story

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