Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
March 30, 2015

Posts in "Environment"

March 24, 2015

Trucking Industry Sues Oregon Over Fuel Law

The trucking industry is trying to block Oregon's lower carbon fuel standards. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The trucking industry is trying to block Oregon’s lower carbon fuel standards. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Oregon’s new governor Kate Brown two weeks ago signed into a law a bill requiring distributors to reduce the carbon “intensity” of vehicle fuel by 10 percent over the next decade.

Now the American Trucking Associations has joined with the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and the Consumer Energy Alliance in suing Oregon to block the fuel standards.

“The Oregon program is set up to give a big boost to Oregon’s small biofuel industry, without reducing net greenhouse gas emissions, and at the expense of higher fuel costs for everyone,” said ATA Vice President for Energy and Environmental Affairs Glen Kedzie. “Unfortunately for Oregon, the Constitution doesn’t allow states to set up these kinds of trade barriers in order to promote in-state businesses, nor does it allow Oregon to regulate how fuel is produced in other states.”

The trucking group contends that the Oregon law will hurt out-of-state refiners and producers and thus violate the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

Brown said she signed the bill because it will help counteract “the effects of a warming planet. This year, 85 percent of our state is experiencing drought, with 33 percent experiencing extreme drought.”

She noted that her state’s Pacific Coast neighbors, California, Washington, and British Columbia, have launched their own lower carbon emissions programs, “which will shape the West Coast market,” and therefore “it is imperative not only that Oregon does its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also that we build a program that meets the needs of Oregonians.”

Brown, a Democrat who had been serving as Oregon’s secretary of state, became governor last month when Gov. John Kitzhaber, also a Democrat, resigned amid federal and state investigations into potential conflicts of interest and influence peddling involving his fiancée, green energy consultant Cylvia Hayes.

Oregon House Minority Leader Mike McLane, a Republican, insinuated during the final House debate on the bill that it might have been improperly influenced by Hayes. “We need to know who influenced who, and was that influence improper or illegal,” he said.

March 19, 2015

Will Musk Have The Antidote To ‘Range Anxiety’?

Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla Motors.  (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla Motors. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of electric car maker Tesla, will announce at a press conference Thursday plans that he has “to end range anxiety,” as he put it on Twitter Tuesday.

The lack of recharging stations makes electric car drivers fret that they may not make it to their destination, a topic discussed at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board in January.

On the coldest days of the year, electric vehicles suffer a more than 40 percent decrease in their range, according to one researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. That may limit the interest in buying electric vehicles in colder weather states.

Musk also caused a flurry of comment this week with his prediction that “when self-driving cars become safer than human-driven cars, the public may outlaw the latter.”

He added, “Hopefully not.”

His speculation about autonomous vehicles wasn’t original. Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute made much the same observation last year.

 

March 13, 2015

Heitkamp Presses OIRA To Finish Oil Train Rules

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., center, is urging OIRA to "quickly finalize" regulations on rail shipment of crude oil. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., center, is urging OIRA to “quickly finalize” regulations on rail shipment of crude oil. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“Oh Ira, why can’t you work more quickly?” That might’ve been what tunesmith George Gershwin said to his lyric-writing brother Ira Gershwin. But for transportation purposes, it’s essentially what Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D- N.D., said Thursday to OIRA – pronounced “oh-Ira” – the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, within the Office of Management and Budget.

OIRA is where proposed regulations go for a final vetting and it now has under review a series of proposed rules on more robust oil tank cars and safer transport of crude oil.

In a letter to OMB director Shaun Donovan, Heitkamp urged OIRA to “quickly finalize” the regulations so that shippers and first responders can know what they must do to more safely ship crude oil. Much of that oil comes from the Bakken formation in Heitkamp’s state and in Montana and is carried by rail to refineries on the East Coast and the West Coast.

She cited the December 2013 derailment, explosion and fire in Casselton, N.D., noting that while no one was killed in that incident “we were lucky… but we cannot depend on luck.”

Meanwhile House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member Peter A. DeFazio, D- Ore., has asked the Government Accountability Office to report to him on what railroads and the federal government are doing to prepare for an oil train derailment and fire “particularly in the most remote and environmentally sensitive areas”

DeFazio specifically asked the GAO to examine what the railroads are doing to preposition “critical resources necessary to respond to spills in both urban and rural areas, including forest lands, with limited road access, prone to catastrophic fire, or at-risk due to long-term drought” and to preposition “critical resources to contain and clean-up oil spills into rivers or other water bodies.”

As the Oregonian reported last year, “Eighteen oil trains a week move along the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge.” Part of the gorge is a national scenic area and it borders national forests.

March 12, 2015

Canadian Government Proposes Safer Oil Tank Cars

Firefighters douse blazes after a train loaded with oil derailed in Lac-Megantic in Quebec on July 6, 2013. Forty-seven people were killed in the accident. (Photo: François Laplante-Delagrave/AFP/Getty Images)

Firefighters douse blazes after a train loaded with oil derailed in Lac-Megantic in Quebec on July 6, 2013. Forty-seven people were killed in the accident. (Photo: François Laplante-Delagrave/AFP/Getty Images)

While oil shippers, railroads, mayors, and emergency responders across the United States wait for the Obama administration to issue new rules on oil tank car safety, the Canadian government has moved to issue its own rules, which may prefigure what’s coming in the United States.

The proposed standards from Transport Canada, the Canadian regulatory agency, mandate a tank car shell thickness of 9/16th of an inch, instead of 7/16 of an inch on older tank cars now in service.

The thicker tank car shell would provide improved puncture resistance if there’s a derailment, the Canadian government said.

Canada would also require shields at the head of the tank car to protect it from puncture.

The announcement said, “Transport Canada recognizes the integrated nature of rail transport in North America” and has taken note of recommendations from industry groups “that a harmonized standard [with the United States] is essential.”

Transport Canada said it is continuing to collaborate with U.S. regulatory agencies to develop stricter requirements for tank cars in North America.

Association of American Railroads president Edward Hamberger said his group was “pleased with Transport Canada’s sensible approach of expediting the rule-making process… to help provide greater certainty in the rail car marketplace.”

Members of Congress have complained about the slowness of the Obama administration rulemaking process on oil tank car safety. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the proposed rule is now out of his department’s hands and being scrutinized by officials at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs which does a cost benefit analysis of proposed regulations.

March 10, 2015

Houston Ship Mishap & Bicyclists To Honor Oberstar

Former House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman James Oberstar, left, with Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D- Ore.

Former House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman James Oberstar, left, with Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D- Ore.

We hear a lot about congestion on the rails as oil and other products move across the county. But there’s heavy traffic on waterways as well, as an accident Monday in the Houston Ship Channel indicated.

A Venezuela-bound tanker spilled the gasoline additive MTBE into the Channel, one of the nation’s crucial transportation choke points, after hitting another vessel, shutting down part of the waterway.

In a recent report, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said increased traffic of oil and perhaps liquefied natural gas exports in the coming years may result in “an (over)taxing of Gulf Coast pipelines, ports, storage facilities, ship channels, and ships themselves – and that does not even take into consideration any delays caused by accidents or storms….”

Back on dry land, the League of American Bicyclists is starting its 15th annual summit in Washington, bringing together advocates from around the nation to urge Congress to keep funding bike trails in this year’s surface transportation bill and to appreciate the value of bicycles in transportation planning.

The League has a lobby day scheduled for Thursday at the Capitol and a “Jim Oberstar Memorial Ride” set for Friday. Oberstar was a dedicated bicyclist and the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee from 2007 to 2011. He died last May.

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.

Full story

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.”

Full story

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.”

Full story

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.

Full story

Sign In

Forgot password?

Or

Subscribe

Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...