Don’t jump to regulations first when accidents occur

From Patricia M. Reilly, senior vice president of communications, Association of American Railroads, Washington, D.C.

The Hill’s July 15 story “Former Obama adviser: Review train regs after Quebec accident” about rail movements of crude oil promoted an oft-used call to action made immediately following an accident: more regulations. 

The more prudent course of action is to see what the investigation reveals about the cause of the incident and then decide next steps.

Freight railroads have a long history of moving a wide range of commodities, including crude oil, which has been safely moved and handled for almost 150 years. Today, 99.997 percent of all rail hazmat shipments reach their destination without a release caused by a train accident. 

This safety record is due to our industry’s strict adherence to safety rules and regulations, as well as continual private investment toward upgrading and maintaining the rail network’s infrastructure and equipment,  more than $25 billion in 2012 alone.  

It is safe to assume that as long as crude oil is being produced in North America, there will be a variety of modes of transportation to take it to market. We believe pipelines and railroads will both play a role in safely moving oil.

One accident is one too many, and freight railroads are committed to learning all we can from the Lac- Mégantic tragedy on how to be a better and safer industry.

Weigh changes to use of spectrum carefully

From Heather Hennessey, legislative executive director, GPS Innovation Alliance, Washington, D.C.:

A recent post on The Hill’s Congress Blog by Thomas M. Lenard and Lawrence J. White (“Broadcast spectrum is not the only spectrum available,” July 23) mischaracterizes the challenges presented by potential new uses of a portion of the Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) spectrum controlled by LightSquared.

The portion of the MSS L-band that LightSquared acquired has historically been reserved for satellite and has strictly limited compatible terrestrial uses, which is why the company was able to buy it for a much lower price than what other companies pay for spectrum designated for terrestrial wireless broadband. The problem wasn’t a lack of definition of LightSquared’s “quasi-property rights” in its spectrum; rather, the problem arose when LightSquared sought to change its “rights” through regulatory processes. The FCC tentatively waived its rules to permit unrestricted broadband use, but at the same time required LightSquared to demonstrate that dramatic expansion of terrestrial use of the L-band would not interfere with hundreds of millions of GPS devices and applications representing hundreds of billions of dollars of pre-existing private and public investment. Use of GPS and related applications added $90 billion to the U.S. economy in 2012 alone, and it is critical in ensuring safe air travel, public safety, national defense and in a wide variety of commercial uses.

After extensive technical testing, LightSquared wasn’t able to meet the FCC’s requirement. The final government report concluded that “there appear to be no practical solutions or mitigations that would permit the LightSquared broadband service, as proposed, to operate in the next few months or years without significant interference with GPS.”

We can all agree on the benefits of making more spectrum available for wireless broadband, but this requires a careful weighing of the costs and benefits of significant changes in existing spectrum uses. In the LightSquared case, the costs of the new use greatly outweighed the benefits. Simply redefining “property rights” in spectrum isn’t the answer.

Let agencies do their job

From From Katherine McFate, president and CEO of the Center for Effective Government, Washington, D.C.:

In a July 16 op-ed that ran in The Hill, “All federal agencies should make sure their regulations are the right solutions,” Nancy Nord of the Consumer Product Safety Commission sings the praises of the latest in a tsunami of anti-regulatory legislation: the Independent Agency Regulatory Analysis Act. Her piece ignores, however, the purpose of creating independent agencies and the costs of inaction.

Independent agencies are created to shield staff from direct political interference by the White House and Congress. Subjecting the rules they produce to review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) undermines that independence. 

OIRA has a track record of weakening and delaying agency rules far beyond its allotted 90-day review deadline, particularly in contested areas like environmental protections and worker health and safety. In some cases, delays have stretched on for years with no explanation. The analyses OIRA demands are often duplicative and wasteful of public resources.

Every day a standard is delayed to produce yet another cost-benefit analysis, roughly one worker is diagnosed with a potentially fatal lung disease caused by breathing in silica, seven children are injured or killed by cars backing up and 131,507 people are sickened by tainted food. We don’t need more rules in the OIRA queue. Instead of trying to gum up the works, let independent agencies have the freedom to fulfill the mission they were created to serve.

The Independent Agency Regulatory Analysis Act is a wolf in sheep’s clothing; it is designed to delay the ability of agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to actually implement the law of the land. Congress should reject this bill.