Sen. Cruz: Rail Bill Gives Admin New Powers That May Curb Energy Transportation, Raise Costs

May 10, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In his opening statement at today’s full committee markup, Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas) detailed his concerns about how the Railway Safety Act would make it easier for the Biden administration to restrict the transportation of coal, oil, natural gas, and ethanol.

Ranking Member Cruz’s opening remarks, as delivered:

“Thank you Madam Chair. As the Chair just noted, today we’re going to be voting on six bills and Coast Guard promotions for 315 mid-grade officers. I’m grateful to chair Cantwell and her staff for working with me and my staff to move several bipartisan bills in this markup.

“There are three bills I want to briefly mention. First, I’m pleased that we’re going to be marking up the TRANQ Research Act of 2023, which I introduced along with Senator Welch. The drug epidemic continues to ravage communities in Texas and across the country. And to protect our citizens, we need to work swiftly to prevent deadly new drugs like Tranq and the truly horrifying side effects that come with it. This bill would improve our knowledge of these devastating drugs so that law enforcement and others on the front line of this battle have better information about when track shows up in a community.

“Secondly, I’m also pleased that we’ll be marking up two bills that will help the people of Texas by modernizing the nation’s weather communications and radio service. I was glad to join Senator Cantwell in introducing the NOAA Weather Radio Modernization Act and the National Weather Service Communications Improvement Act. When severe storms take out communication systems in Texas and other states, we need reliable hazard communication systems to inform them about how to stay safe.

“Now, turning to the Railway Safety Act. This bill was introduced in the aftermath of the shocking derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine, Ohio. All of us were moved by the testimony of the witnesses. I found particularly moving the testimony of a resident from East Palestine – Ms. Misty Allison.

“At the time of the hearing, I made clear to Norfolk Southern that we expected that they would pay for the damage that was caused to the residents of East Palestine and the surrounding areas. It was not their fault, and the railroad had an obligation to make them whole. I was pleased to announce yesterday that Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw signed a letter committing to me and committing to this committee in writing to compensate homeowners near the derailment site for the reduction in their property values. Norfolk Southern committed to establish a fund that will make whole those residents who sell their homes for less than the pre-derailment appraised value. Thank Norfolk Southern for making that commitment. We will be holding them to that commitment but that is major progress for ensuring justice for the homes and the families injured by that horrific derailment.

“Since the derailment, my colleague Senator Vance has been an indispensable voice for rural Ohioans and I applaud his commitment to his constituents. In March, Senator Vance joined Senator Brown in introducing the bill that is before us today. I said at our hearing later that month that my staff and I would work diligently towards an agreement on policies that improve safety and protect communities, while at the same time not damaging our supply chain or imposing unreasonable costs that would ultimately make products more expensive for families.

“We all recognize this bill has changed since it was introduced. It’s gone from 18 pages to a substitute that’s nearly 80 pages long. I earnestly hoped that we would reach a bipartisan consensus, and I applaud the substantial work by Senator Cantwell, Senator Vance and their staff that’s gone into this bill. They are to be commended for their efforts and their passion. But unfortunately, at this stage, I cannot support the results.

“I remain concerned that this bill is overly and needlessly prescriptive in certain places. In particular, I worry that these numerous new rulemakings and authorities empower Secretary Buttigieg and the Biden administration to further and aggressively restrict the movement of American energy products.  The many regulatory requirements of this bill would always carry some risk of harm to our supply chain and increased cost to American consumers. I think that was a trade many of us were willing to make for improved rail safety, but without sufficient guide rails in the hands of overzealous Biden bureaucrats, the new mandates in this bill would make it much easier for this administration to restrict the transportation of coal, of oil, of natural gas, and of ethanol. And, the burdens on moving these commodities would carry over to the many other trains in the rail network that carry crops and building materials and cars to market. That means more time and costs to deliver everything from industrial chemicals to orange juice.

“With these potential consequences in mind, I’m very concerned about giving broad authority to the Biden administration to write these new rules without guardrails in place, such a clear such as a clear requirement for the prescriptive rulemakings. To be cost effective, President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg would have a free hand to aggressively restrict the movement of coal, oil, natural gas, ethanol, and other essential commodities that the radical Green Movement hates. Of course, consumers will still demand these and other commodities, but at some point, it becomes too costly to move by rail, and so trucking will become more attractive. The likely result of increasing rail costs and network congestion is the diversion of the shipment of hazardous materials from trains to trucks.

“Data clearly shows that on average transportation by truck consumes more fuel, carries a greater risk of an accident with a hazardous material release, and carries a greater threat to the traveling public than transportation by rail. Last year, there were 355 hazmat spills by rail. That’s 355 too many, but, there were more than 23,000 hazmat spills by truck. In the current form of this bill, the measure to quote improve rail safety may come at the expense of transportation safety overall.

“Again, I’m disappointed we weren’t able to reach agreement on a targeted bipartisan rail safety bill, but I remain hopeful that between now and final passage, we will reach that agreement. I think this bill, as written, it’s going to pass this committee. But, I don’t believe that, as written, it is likely to get 60 votes in the Senate and I think it is even less likely, as written, to pass the House of Representatives. So, I remain committed to working with the authors of this bill and with the Chairwoman to find a bill that both enhances safety but also does not result in dramatically driving up the cost of energy for consumers who are being hurt today.”