Category Archives: Federal Regulation (U.S.)

Schiff introduces constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United

By Rachel Frazin, The Hill, 05/08/19 11:58 AM EDT
[See also Shiff’s press release]
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on Wednesday introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which eliminated restrictions on corporate campaign spending.

The amendment would allow Congress and states to put limits on campaign contributions, according to a statement from Schiff’s office.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United overturned decades of legal precedent and has enabled billions in dark money to pour into our elections,” Schiff said in a statement.

The amendment would also allow states to enact laws creating public financing of campaigns.

“Amending the Constitution is an extraordinary step, but it is the only way to safeguard our democratic process against the threat of unrestrained and anonymous spending by wealthy individuals and corporations,” he added. “This amendment will restore power to everyday citizens.”

Schiff also announced the amendment on Twitter.

“Our democracy is not for sale,” he wrote. “We must stop the flood of dark money from drowning out the voices of everyday citizens.”

The 5-4 Citizens United ruling prohibited the government from limiting spending by companies, nonprofit organizations and unions on political campaign advertisements. The majority argued that such provisions would inhibit freedom of speech.

Share...

    The federal government’s repeated failure to address the volatility of the oil moving by rail in America

    Repost from DeSmog

    Federal Government Foot-Dragging Helps Oil Industry Delay Oil-by-Rail Rules

    By Justin Mikulka, April 5, 2019 – 13:18

    In an attempt to reduce the risk of fiery oil train accidents, the state of Washington is working to pass a bill that would limit the vapor pressure of oil on trains to below 9 pounds per square inch (psi). Vapor pressure is a measure of the volatility of flammable liquids and correlates to their likelihood of igniting. Higher vapor pressure means an oil is more volatile and more likely to ignite and burn when a train derails.

    If the federal government won’t act to protect public safety and adopt a safer nationwide standard, we will adopt our own,” state Sen. Andy Billig (D-Spokane) said of the bill he sponsored. “There is just too much to lose — for people and our environment.”

    Billig’s comments point to the federal government’s repeated failure to address the volatility of the oil moving by rail in America.

    The Obama administration specifically left this issue out of the Department of Transportation’s 2015 regulations on moving oil by rail. In May 2017, half a dozen state attorneys general petitioned the federal government to regulate vapor pressure, which resulted in a proposed rule at the end of the Obama administration.

    This oil train vapor pressure rule has gone nowhere in the Trump administration.

    As DeSmog reported in 2016, the American Petroleum Institute has said that even having these discussions about regulating oil vapor pressure is “dangerous.”

    Exploding oil train fireball in Casselton, North Dakota
    The fireball that followed the derailment and explosion of two trains, one carrying Bakken crude oil, on December 30, 2013, outside Casselton, North Dakota. Credit: U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration

    Unsurprisingly, the state of North Dakota, where much of the highly volatile crude oil moved by rail in America is produced, opposes Washington state’s rule and is preparing to sue the state over it.

    However, in a surprising moment of honesty, North Dakota’s top oil regulator didn’t bother pretending this opposition was about safety and instead revealed the real motivation: money.

    Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, said that taking the steps to stabilize the crude oil (remove its volatile natural gas liquids) and achieve a vapor pressure of less than 9 psi would “devalue the crude oil immensely.”

    The crude coming out of oil fields like North Dakota’s Bakken Shale is rich in natural gas liquids such as propane and butane, which make the oil more dangerous to transport but also more valuable. A value the industry and its allies in government aren’t willing to relinquish.

    However, this isn’t really news. I wrote about a similar message from a North Dakota oil producer in 2014 when he too was opposing regulations to reduce the vapor pressure of Bakken oil before rail transport.

    The flammable characteristics of our product are actually a big piece of why this product is so valuable. That is why we can make these very valuable products like gasoline and jet fuel,” said Tony Lucero of oil producer Enerplus.

    North Dakota Using Federal Government Delays to Avoid Regulation

    Once trains carrying volatile oil from the Bakken Shale started blowing up on a regular basis in 2013, it became clear that the oil itself was part of the problem. Its high amounts of natural gas liquids make the oil more volatile and therefore more likely to catch fire and explode.

    After the deadly oil train accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people, there was confusion about the associated explosions and intense fires that burned for days. As the Wall Street Journal reported at the time, an oil executive said, “Crude oil doesn’t explode like that.”

    Which is true. But crude oil mixed with lots of propane and butane, such as the Bakken’s crude oil, does explode like that. And trains carrying oil from the Bakken continued to explode like that after derailing again and again.


    Rainy Day Train Message/Oil Train Protesters. Credit: Joe BruskyCC BYNC 2.0

    The Obama administration argued that it couldn’t regulate oil vapor pressure because the issue was disputed scientifically and required more study. More than three years ago, I wrote that this was simply a delay tactic and that claiming the oil industry didn’t understand the fundamental science of crude oil was absurd:

    “The oil industry and the government regulators in charge of regulating the industry don’t understand the basic science of oil. This is the core of the argument used to justify why they continue to run dangerous trains filled with Bakken oil through communities across North America. Do you believe them?

    Despite the audacity of this position, it is being used to delay any new regulations and to support the idea that the mystery of why Bakken crude oil explodes must be studied for years before it would be possible to make any regulatory decisions.”

    Meanwhile, as I’ve also been writing for years, if you ask an oil expert like Ramanan Krishnamoorti, a professor of petroleum engineering at the University of Houston, you learn that couldn’t be further from the truth.

    The notion that this requires significant research and development is a bunch of BS,” Krishnamoorti wrote in an email response to Al Jazeera. “The science behind this has been revealed over 80 years ago, and developing a simple spreadsheet to calculate risk based on composition and vapor pressure is trivial. This can be done today.” [emphasis added]

    The Departments of Energy and Transportation announced the start of a study that was supposed to resolve this issue — four years ago — in April of 2015. At the time, regulators referred to it as a two-year study.

    In late 2016, at the Energy by Rail Conference in Arlington, Virginia, Suzanne Lemieux of the American Petroleum Institute gave a presentation on crude oil volatility and stabilization. While arguing once again that there wasn’t clear evidence that stabilizing oil reduces its volatility and risk, Lemieux noted that the federal study on the issue had been delayed. She said now it was expected to conclude sometime in 2018.

    The explanation for the delay was that the researchers at Sandia National Laboratories were still collecting samples of the oil in late 2016 — almost a year and a half after the “two-year” study was announced.

    And now, four years later, according to The Bismarck Tribune, North Dakota oil regulator Lynn Helms “encouraged [Washington] legislators to wait for the results of a Sandia National Laboratories study that was commissioned by the U.S.Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Energy.”

    Four years later. The federal government is unable to complete a two-year study in four years on a question which oil experts already know the answer to.

    A very effective delay tactic that means no one can “devalue” the oil implicated in multiple explosions and 47 deaths.

    Main image: Screen shot of McClatchy article combined with Justin Mikulka’s oil train photo and text. Credit: Justin Mikulka 

    Share...

      Bump Stock Ban now official nationwide – Supreme Court

      Repost from NPR News
      [See also the New York Times report.]

      Bump Stock Ban Proceeds After Supreme Court Denies Gun Makers’ Request To Halt It

      By Laurel Wamsley, March 28, 201912:54 PM ET
      A bump stock, left, is a device that can be added to a gun to increase its firing speed. The devices were banned by the federal government his week. George Frey/Getty Images

      The U.S. Supreme Court officially denied an appeal from gun makers seeking to stop a Trump administration ban on bump stocks, the gun add-ons that can dramatically increase their rate of fire. The ban went into effect on Tuesday.

      Gun makers had filed separate appeals to Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, requesting a temporary hold on the ban. Roberts denied one appeal earlier this week; Sotomayor referred hers to the full court, which denied it on Thursday, allowing the ban to proceed while challenges to it move through the courts.

      Bump stocks gained national attention after they were used in the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, where a gunman used bump-stock outfitted rifles to kill 58 people at an outdoor concert.

      The ban requires bump stocks to be destroyed — such as by melting, shredding or crushing — or handed over at an office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The ATF recommends making an appointment with the ATF office beforehand.

      As NPR’s Bill Chappell reported on Wednesday, the anticipation of a ban spurred sales of the devices:

      RW Arms, a prominent bump stock retailer based in Fort Worth, Texas, says its entire remaining inventory of 60,000 bump stocks has now been turned over to the ATF’s custody. The items will be “shredded and recycled under the supervision of ATF agents,” the company said.

      In the run-up to the total ban, RW Arms had rushed to sell as many bump stocks as it could, posting a countdown clock on its website to warn customers of the impending change. Its bump stocks were priced at between $179 and $199; the website now says they’re out of stock.

      The ATF isn’t saying exactly how many bump stocks have been turned in so far — in large part because there are many ways for gun owners to comply with the law. But the agency’s chief of public affairs, April Langwell, says bump stock owners have turned the accessories in at ATF field offices “all across the country.”

      Some states and cities banned the devices more than a year ago.

      Share...

        Government deregulation without limits – FAA comes under criticism

        Repost from The Register-Guard, Eugene, OR
        [Quote: “When something bad happens, the government will take action — but over time those regulations and requirements wind up being dropped, reduced or delayed. The 2017 fatal Amtrak derailment near Tacoma, the 2016 oil train derailment in the Columbia River Gorge, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the 2008 financial crisis and countless other events could have been prevented.”]

        Deregulating? DeFazio’s watching

        Posted Mar 27, 2019 at 12:01 AM

        The Boeing 737 jet crashes raise troubling questions that go far beyond one company’s safety record and one federal agency’s watchdog role.

        The history of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft suggests it is an example of how the government’s regulation-and-oversight pendulum has swung too far. The Federal Aviation Administration has lacked both the money and the inclination to adequately oversee aircraft development, instead relying heavily on companies to do their own testing.

        Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio is demanding answers. The Springfield Democrat chairs the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The committee’s investigative staff is doing research, and DeFazio then plans to hold hearings.

        “This is really, really raising questions about the FAA as a watchdog,” he said in a meeting with The Register-Guard editorial board.

        A faulty sensor is being investigated as one cause, and Boeing is working on a software fix. The two-sensor system was developed as a safety feature to prevent a plane from stalling. But it appears the failure of just one sensor can send the aircraft into a powerful, possibly irreversible dive unless the pilots override the system within 40 seconds, according to a New York Times report this week.

        DeFazio promises a tenacious investigation. Among the questions are why the system was designed this way, whether the aircraft was unsafely rushed to market, and why the FAA and Boeing did not require extensive retraining of pilots.

        “This is the first time Boeing has put in a system that took over the plane automatically,” he said. “And they didn’t think they needed to tell people about it — because it’s different from any other Boeing plane ever made?

        “Obviously, maybe not the best idea.”

        For years, the FAA has lacked sufficient inspectors and has outsourced much of that responsibility to the manufacturers. But the FAA is not unique. We now have a government that relies on the honor, integrity and self-supervision of the industries it regulates.

        When something bad happens, the government will take action — but over time those regulations and requirements wind up being dropped, reduced or delayed. The 2017 fatal Amtrak derailment near Tacoma, the 2016 oil train derailment in the Columbia River Gorge, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the 2008 financial crisis and countless other events could have been prevented.

        “It’s repeated time and time again,” DeFazio said. “There are limits to deregulation, which in many cases have been exceeded.”

        Oregon has its own history of unwatchful eyes. The Cover Oregon health insurance fiasco could have been averted through closer, more-knowledgeable oversight and insistence on stronger testing of the technology throughout its development. Better oversight — not to mention much-better planning in the first place — might have saved the state from wasting millions of dollars in the Highway 20 reconstruction between the valley and the coast.

        Each time, government and the public vow to learn from these lessons. Then we relax and we forget.

        When DeFazio and his congressional colleagues find the answers they are seeking, our government should heed them.

        Share...