New regs for Monday: Railroads, Christmas trees, Iranian sanctions

Monday's edition of the Federal Register contains new rules for railroads, Iranian sanctions, and Christmas trees.

Here's what is happening:

Railroad: The Department of Transportation is examining the profitability of railroad companies and how that relates to the prices they charge freight carriers.

The Transportation Department's Surface Transportation Board announced Friday it is looking into the agency's methodology for determining the revenue adequacy of railroads and the "reasonableness" of their prices.

The Surface Transportation Board has been calculating the railroad industry's financial health for decades, but it is reconsidering these measures. The board, which places limits on how much railroads can charge freight carriers, wants to make sure these companies have enough money to maintain the safety of their railroads.

"In the last several years, questions have been raised regarding the agency’s methodology for determining revenue adequacy and whether it appropriately measures the financial condition of the railroad industry," the agency wrote.

"The revenue adequacy standard represents a reasonable level of profitability for a healthy carrier," the agency wrote. "It fairly rewards the rail company's investors and assures shippers that the carrier will be able to meet their service needs for the long term.

"Carriers do not need greater revenues than this standard permits, and we believe ... they are not entitled to higher revenues."

The public has until July 1 to comment on the issue.

Iranian sanctions: The Obama administration is lifting a small portion of the Iranian sanctions to allow for more exports of food and medical supplies to Iran.

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control announced the changes Friday.

While the Obama administration already allows for some exports of food and medical supplies, it is expanding the general license that authorizes these exports to include more of these necessities.

The rule applies to a broader category of agricultural commodities, as well as certain replacement parts for medical devices, the agency noted.

The rule goes into effect immediately.

Christmas trees: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is moving forward with an industry-funded program for farmers that helps promote and inform the public about fresh-cut Christmas trees.

The USDA's Agriculture Marketing Service published the rule in November 2011, but it delayed the program a week later to give the industry more time to comment and so the agency could reconsider the program.

More than two years later, the agency announced Friday it is moving forward with the program.

Acquisitions: The Environmental Protection Agency is considering changes to its acquisitions regulations.

The proposed rule would update rules for ordering officers. The public has one month to comment.

Autism: President Obama said his administration is a strong supporter of people with autism, in recognition of World Autism Awareness Day, which occurred on Wednesday.

President Obama said one in 68 children suffer from autism. He pointed to his namesake healthcare program and education initiatives that help people with autism.

"Because our whole nation benefits when Americans with autism succeed, we must ensure our healthcare and education systems work for them," Obama said.