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JACKSON: Derailment Should Not Be an Opportunity for Political Grandstanding

Fortunately, there were no fatalities in the East Palestine, Ohio, freight train derailment, but there is plenty of legitimate concern regarding the environmental and human health consequences it caused. Unfortunately, instead of finding ways to help the people of East Palestine and proposing rational, common-sense steps forward, political discourse continues to be brutally murdered by interests that have only raw partisan advantage in mind.

Long after a wreck released more than 100,000 gallons of toxic materials, forced an evacuation of residents, and contaminated nearby soil and water, the White House made a bold statement that was an obvious effort to divert attention away from the benign neglect it initially exhibited.

“Congressional Republicans and former Trump administration officials owe East Palestine an apology for selling them out to rail industry lobbyists when they dismantled Obama-Biden rail safety protections as well as EPA powers to rapidly contain spills,” said White House spokesman Andrew Bates.

Those same congressional Republicans also “laid the groundwork for the Trump administration to tear up requirements for more effective train brakes,” Bates continued. “Last year,” he ranted, “most House Republicans wanted to defund our ability to protect drinking water.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, so late arriving at the scene of the Norfolk Southern accident that he might as well not have bothered to go, has also used the victims of the Ohio village of 4,800 as props. While families were trying to restore their lives, Buttigieg didn’t let the crisis go to waste. He insisted that federal regulation should require at least two crew members aboard each train cab, and called for the industry to provide paid sick leave for all employees, claiming it would make rail travel safer. According to NPR, Buttigieg also mentioned that Washington should “mandate a better braking system on trains that carry volatile fuels, chemicals and other toxic substances.”

Interestingly, none of these proposals are related to the East Palestine derailment.

First, a three-member crew was aboard the train that derailed. That’s one more than the Federal Railroad Administration wants to require and two more than is necessary for safe travel. Single-person crews are typical in Europe and Australia, and they are no less safe than the rail lines in the United States, where multiple-person crews operate.

Consulting firm Oliver Wyman has determined that the European “countries with the best safety records (least fatalities and weighted serious injuries per million train-kilometers) are all countries where railroads operate with single-person crews.”

The problem for Biden, Buttigieg and their allies is that rail travel has been made safer by Positive Train Control systems, which have been in operation for about two years over nearly all of the 58,000 miles of freight and passenger rail routes that cross this country. The development of PTCs means that trains don’t need an additional crew member whose role is redundant.

Buttigieg’s insistence that rail companies provide paid sick leave to all employees has no connection to the East Palestine derailment. No one has claimed it was caused by workers too ill to do their jobs. Nor is there any evidence that ailing crews were responsible. But, of course, extending paid sick leave to workers is a major labor union objective. Is Buttigieg, a federal official, negotiating publicly, yet stealthily, on behalf of those unions, which were willing to shut down freight-rail service last fall over their demand for paid sick leave?

The transportation secretary also used the incident to advance his pro-union agenda to “modernize braking regulations and increase the use of electronically controlled pneumatic brakes,” particularly electronically controlled pneumatic, or ECP, brakes.

Again, Buttigieg is exploiting the crash to further a political agenda. National Transportation Safety Board Chairperson Jennifer Homendy made this clear when she tweeted that even if the ECP brake rule had been implemented, it would not have prevented the Norfolk Southern train from leaving the tracks.

According to Homendy’s tweet, “The ECP braking rule would’ve applied ONLY to HIGH HAZARD FLAMMABLE TRAINS. The train that derailed in East Palestine was a MIXED FREIGHT TRAIN containing only 3 placarded Class 3 flammable liquids cars.”

Other items from Buttigieg’s list are just as disconnected from the East Palestine disaster as those mentioned above.

While most of us see a tragedy that will continue to unfold for years, if not decades, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and one-time presidential primary candidate sees political opportunity. He still wants to be president, and a train wreck that he seemed to care little about initially became a moment in which he could burnish his progressive creds and shore up support from organized labor. 

Unfortunately for East Palestine, Ohio, the town is his springboard for a future campaign.

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Nat Gas Fees Generate $234M as GOP Targets Dems Over Energy Policy

Pennsylvania’s tax on natural gas development generated $234 million in 2021, marking the second-largest amount ever returned to communities across the commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) said Friday.

The natural gas impact fee has generated $2.2 billion in the last decade.

Most of the money goes to county and local governments, however some state agencies also receive funds. The money funds infrastructure, emergency response and environmental programs.

“Generating $2.3 billion in essential funding for state and local governments across all 67 counties, Pennsylvania’s unique natural gas tax is an effective policy that yields impactful results,” Marcellus Shale Coalition president David Callahan said.

Some $234.4 million will be distributed to the state and counties in 2022, with all 67 counties receiving an allotment.

“The nearly 60 percent increase in this year’s distribution is directly related to heightened activity levels and the commodity price environment, underscoring the importance of policies that encourage domestic natural gas development, transportation and use. Our members continue to be focused on responsibly developing clean, abundant Pennsylvania natural gas, which is even more important today in keeping America and our allies’ energy secure,” Callahan said.

American Petroleum Institute Pennsylvania (API PA) Executive Director Stephanie Catarino Wissman said, “Every corner of the commonwealth has directly benefitted from Pennsylvania’s impact fee. This tax on natural gas wells has generated new revenue – totaling more than $2.2 billion over the past decade – for a wide variety of environmental, conservation, infrastructure, public safety and recreation projects. The report shows how natural gas production in Pennsylvania provides hundreds of millions annually in essential revenue while strengthening our economy.”

The impact fee revenue depends on the average annual price of natural gas on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), which increased in 2021 compared to 2020, when the demand for natural gas declined due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a mild winter. Impact tax revenue reached $234 million in 2021, nearly 60 percent more than 2020, one of the highest collections since the impact tax was imposed ten years ago.

“As the demand for energy rebounds, policy certainty and long-term energy solutions are needed to help ensure that Americans have access to affordable and reliable energy,” said Wissman. “Pennsylvania’s abundant shale gas presents a unique opportunity to bolster domestic supply while funding critical infrastructure and environmental programs across the state, even in areas without natural gas development.”

This announcement comes when energy companies are under attack by the Biden administration over “excess” profits, a charge that economists dismiss.

Biden took steps to hamstring the energy companies at the onset of his administration, blocking the Keystone XL pipeline and signed executive orders to halt new oil and gas leases on public land, favoring green energy alternatives.

“Getting on a plane right now to go meet with a murderer to talk about the Saudis picking up their production, or writing a letter to the CEOs of Chevron and Exxon to say ‘super-duper large profits won’t be tolerated’ is simply inexcusable,” said economist David L. Bahnsen about Biden’s energy policy.

And while Biden has blamed high gasoline prices on Russian President Putin and the war in Ukraine, he recently pivoted to blame oil companies. But gasoline prices were at an average of $2.27 a gallon nationwide on Jan. 20, 2021 when Biden took office. On Jan. 3, a month before Putin invaded Ukraine, the national average gas price stood at $3.28 a gallon and as of Friday, the average price was $5 a gallon.

And it’s not just Biden.

Congresswoman Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery) tweeted in March: “The price of crude oil is falling, and that should be reflected at the pump. We must be certain that energy companies are not using an unjust war to profit and price gouge.”

And in a let them eat cake moment, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said families who buy electric vehicles “never have to worry about gas prices again.”

Meanwhile, the sale price for an EV, on average, was $60,054 in February. That compared to $45,596 on average for all new vehicles, including electric ones, according to data from Edmonds.

Also, there’s the convenience factor. On a recent road trip, a Wall Street Journal reporter said she spent more time charging her rented EV than sleeping.

In a tweet that sums the situation up, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said, “The United States is blowing through its strategic oil reserves faster than expected. Gas is $5 a gallon nationally. And Joe Biden STILL refuses to drill domestically.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is making political hay for the 2022 midterms out of the high gas prices. They’re airing a new commercial targeting Democratic Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Democrat John Fetterman, who is running for the Senate, linking them to Biden and the high gas prices.

The ad says Fetterman backs Biden and the Green New Deal.

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