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AP report examines DOT’s rulemaking process under Trump administration

DOT headquarters
Photo: Jane Terry

New York — At least a dozen Department of Transportation regulations have been either stalled in the rulemaking process or eliminated since President Donald Trump took office, according to a recent report from the Associated Press.

Reviewing DOT’s rulemaking progress since January 2017, AP found that the following rules and regulations have been delayed or withdrawn:

  • A requirement for electronically controlled pneumatic brakes on rail cars that carry large volumes of flammable liquids (withdrawn)
  • Mandated obstructive sleep apnea screenings for train engineers and commercial motor vehicle drivers (withdrawn)
  • Mandatory installation of speed-limiting devices in CMVs (delayed)

The AP report, published Feb. 26, suggests these actions have been taken because current DOT officials used to be executives in the industries that oppose those rules. Those officials are:

  • Jeffrey Rosen, DOT deputy secretary, an attorney who previously represented General Motors and an airline industry trade group
  • Daniel Elwell, acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, a former airline lobbyist
  • Cathy Gautreaux, deputy administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, previously executive director of the trucking advocacy group Louisiana Motor Transport Association for nearly three decades
  • Ronald Batory, head of the Federal Railroad Administration, previously president of Conrail, a service provider for two major railroad corporations
  • Howard Elliott, administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, formerly an executive with transportation supplier CSX Corp.

DOT has maintained that officials with such backgrounds are beneficial to the agency because they have inside industry knowledge.

Critics claim the regulatory strategy is to carry out President Trump’s Executive Order, issued Jan. 30, 2017, that called for federal agencies to eliminate two existing regulations for every one introduced. The White House clarified in a guidance memo three days later that the order would apply only to “significant regulatory action” – those with an estimated “annual effect on the economy” of $100 million or more.

The rules

Both the obstructive sleep apnea screenings rule and the speed-limiting devices requirements were developed in response to fatal incidents attributed to fatigue and excessive speed, respectively.

“These rules have been written in blood,” John Risch, national legislative director for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, told AP. “But we’re in a new era now of little-to-no new regulations, no matter how beneficial they might be.”

The AP report references a 2016 study from DOT that concluded speed-limiting devices would save both lives and money.

“It would save as many as 498 lives per year and produce a net cost savings to society of $475 million to nearly $5 billion annually depending on the top speed the government picked,” the AP report states, citing the DOT study. “That’s nearly half the 1,100 deaths annually in crashes involving heavy trucks on roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher. The government didn’t propose a top speed but said it had studied 60, 65 and 68 mph.

“The proposal was also expected to solve another problem: Most heavy truck tires aren’t designed to travel over 75 mph, but some states have 80 mph speed limits.”

DOT claims it can ensure safety while reducing regulation. In October, the agency requested public comment on regulations under consideration for revision, suspension or elimination. It offered 20 regulations for review, 13 of which involved safety. On Dec. 13, DOT announced its intent to repeal the advanced braking system rule opposed by the freight railroad industry, using a revised analysis that showed costs outweighed benefits.

DOT declined repeated requests by AP for on-the-record interviews with officials, but Deputy General Counsel James Owens gave a statement.

“We will not finalize a rule simply because it has advanced through preliminary steps,” Owens said. “Even if a rule is ‘one step away,’ if that rule is not justifiable because it harms safety and imposes unnecessarily high economic costs, for example, that rule will not advance.”

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