GOP bill would undermine auto, rail safety regulations

Jul 16, 2015, 4:00 PM
FILE – In this May 12, 2105 file photo, emergency personnel work the scene of a deadly train ...
FILE - In this May 12, 2105 file photo, emergency personnel work the scene of a deadly train wreck in Philadelphia. An Amtrak train headed to New York City derailed and tipped in Philadelphia. Despite several years of horrific oil train wrecks and record car and truck recalls, congressional Republicans have decided that the auto and railroad industries suffer from too much safety regulation, not too little. (AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek, File)
(AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — At a time of record auto recalls and high-profile train wrecks, Republicans are working on legislation to roll back safety regulation of the auto and railroad industries.

A bill approved this week on a party-line vote by a Senate committee brims with industry-sought provisions that would block, delay or roll back safety rules. The measure is to be part of a must-pass transportation bill that GOP leaders hope to put to a vote in the Senate as early as next week.

They are under pressure to act quickly because authority for transportation programs expires on July 31. Without a cash infusion, the government will have to delay highway and transit aid to states.

One provision would block a new Department of Transportation rule requiring that trains hauling crude oil are equipped with electronically controlled brakes that affect cars all at the same time, rather than sequentially. The bill calls for a study of the technology and puts off any regulatory mandate, which could delay implementation for years.

The brake rule was prompted by a series of train wrecks in which cars of crude oil and ethanol exploded, igniting fires that burned for days. Freight railroads oppose the rule, which could cost them billions of dollars.

Another provision would give freight and commuter railroads and Amtrak more time to install a safety system called positive train control. The technology relies on GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor train position and slow or stop trains in danger of derailing because they’re traveling too fast, are about to collide with another train or are about to enter an area where crews are working on tracks.

A 2008 law requires railroads to have the technology installed and operating by the end of this year. Most are not expected to make that deadline.

The National Transportation Safety Board says that if the technology had been in operation, it could have prevented an Amtrak derailment in May that killed eight people and injured about 200 others in Philadelphia, and a derailment that killed four passengers and injured 64 others in New York City in December 2013, as well as other fatal accidents.

Railroads say they have spent billions of dollars on the technology but have been hampered by technical and financial difficulties and need more time.

The bill would effectively allow states to lower the qualifying age for interstate commercial truck drivers from 21 to 18. The provision was sought by the trucking industry, which says there is a shortage of drivers.

Another provision sought by the industry would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to remove safety ratings of truck and bus companies from its public website. The companies disagree with the methodology the agency uses for the ratings.

The bill would impose requirements on the motor carrier agency that safety advocates say could stymie new safety regulations by making an already lengthy rulemaking process even more difficult.

Following record auto recalls last year totaling almost 64 million vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked that its staff be increased and the limit on fines levied on offending automakers be raised to $300 million, from the current $35 million.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee agreed to increase the agency’s budget, but only after it satisfies 17 recommendations made by the Transportation Department’s inspector general. The maximum fine would double to $70 million, but only after the agency comes out with regulations identifying all the factors that go into calculating fines. The conditions could effectively delay action on both matters by a year or more.

Two GOP presidential candidates on the committee — Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas — didn’t attend the meeting while the bill’s provisions were being voted upon. However, the chairman, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., cast proxy votes for them on amendments and for Cruz on final passage of the bill. Rubio voted in person in favor of passage of the bill. Several Democrats joined GOP senators in opposing changes to controversial provisions.

Thune and other Republicans on the committee said the changes were necessary reforms to federal agencies that have overstepped their bounds or have issued regulations that unfairly penalize industry without improving safety. Thune noted the bill contains several provisions sought by Democrats and safety advocates.

One of the biggest would prevent rental car agencies from renting vehicles that are under a safety recall, but have not been repaired. Initially, the bill had said rental car agencies could rent unrepaired cars if they first informed customers. Other provisions would make it easier for states to qualify for federal grants to tackle drunk driving, promote seatbelt use and address other safety issues, and start a pilot program to inform motorists of recalls when they register their cars.

That was not enough to sweeten the bill for safety advocates.

The GOP bill is “loaded down with giveaways to special interests that will set back safety for years to come,” said Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “The influence of corporate lobbyists had more sway than commonsense and cost-effective solutions to deadly problems.”

___

Krisher reported from Detroit.

___

Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy and Tom Krisher at http://www.twitter.com/tkrisher

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Technology

In this Sept. 20, 2021, photo Austin Moody poses for a photo as he sits a his home work station in ...
Associated Press

States at disadvantage in race to recruit cybersecurity pros

CHICAGO (AP) — Austin Moody wanted to apply his cybersecurity skills in his home state of Michigan, teaming up with investigators for the State Police to analyze evidence and track down criminals. But the recent graduate set the idea aside after learning an unpaid internship was his only way into the Michigan agency. “I don’t […]
1 day ago
Police stand guard as supporters of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou gather at Shenzhen Bao'an International...
Associated Press

Huawei executive returns as China releases 2 Canadians

SHENZHEN, China (AP) — An executive of Chinese global communications giant Huawei Technologies returned from Canada Saturday night following a legal settlement that also saw the release of two Canadians held by China, potentially bringing closure to a nearly 3-year-long feud embroiling Ottawa, Beijing and Washington. Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter […]
1 day ago
This image captured from the Battle of the Nibelungs Facebook page on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021 shows ...
Associated Press

Neo-Nazis are still on Facebook. And they’re making money

BRUSSELS (AP) — It’s the premier martial arts group in Europe for right-wing extremists. German authorities have twice banned their signature tournament. But Kampf der Nibelungen, or Battle of the Nibelungs, still thrives on Facebook, where organizers maintain multiple pages, as well as on Instagram and YouTube, which they use to spread their ideology, draw […]
2 days ago
Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assemb...
Associated Press

GLIMPSES: Phone in hand, Barbados PM dials into issues at UN

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley certainly didn’t phone in her speech at the U.N. General Assembly on Friday — but she did have what appeared to be an iPhone in hand while delivering impassioned remarks to fellow world leaders. Mottley, who became prime minister of the Caribbean country in 2018, […]
2 days ago
Stocks that traded heavily or had substantial price changes Friday: Nike Inc., down $9.99 to $149.5...
Associated Press

Vail Resorts, Progress Software rise; Nike, Nvidia fall

Stocks that traded heavily or had substantial price changes Friday: Nike Inc., down $9.99 to $149.59. The athletic apparel maker warned investors that supply chain problems will hurt revenue. Meredith Corp., up $11.41 to $56.30. IAC/InteractiveCorp. is reportedly in talks to buy the owner of People and Better Homes & Gardens magazines. Progress Software Corp., […]
2 days ago
Principal Brad Foss holds the door for students returning from recess at Fox Hills Elementary Schoo...
Associated Press

Census ponders producing less granular data in next release

U.S. Census Bureau officials said Friday that they were pondering whether to produce less granular data in the next round of 2020 census data, dealing with housing and family relationships, in a decision that could upset researchers, city planners and others who rely on neighborhood-level information. The Census Bureau described the proposal as a trade-off […]
2 days ago
GOP bill would undermine auto, rail safety regulations