American Principles Project Backs Railway Safety Act
The group is urging its members to support new legislation to regulate America’s railways.
Public policy groups on the right are sending conflicting messages this week on the Railway Safety Act, cosponsored by Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown (D) and J.D. Vance (R). The libertarian FreedomWorks sent a letter Monday claiming that the pair's legislation “would do little to improve safety while creating gross inefficiencies for thousands of businesses.” FreedomWorks laid off 40 percent of its staff in a round of rationalizations this week.
As a foil to the small to the wall conservatives urging market-obsessed restraint, the American Principles Project (APP) sent a letter today urging members to support the senators' legislation.
Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio, the bill’s most vocal cheerleader in the GOP, said on Bret Baier’s Fox News show Wednesday that “when you have a toxic, a terrible, train crash like what we’ve had in East Palestine, the costs are socialized. A lot of the costs of cleaning this thing up are going to be borne by taxpayers. Well, if taxpayers are going to have to bear the cost, trains are going to have to crash less frequently, and I think that’s something our legislation helps with.”
APP, an advocacy tank that aggressively backs pro-family policy in campaigns and elections, said in its letter that “while it may technically be 'market efficient' for a single firm to dispose of hazardous waste in the cheapest manner possible, the roll call of communities immiserated by toxic waste…suggest that this approach is far from efficient for the nation at large.”
Jon Schweppe, APP’s director of policy, told The American Conservative that the regulations introduced by Brown and Vance are obvious proposals focused on ensuring the safety of railway practice: “When you have more than a thousand derailments a year, obviously something’s not going right, and we should seek to do everything we can to prevent this from happening.”
The letter lists four policy objectives that the senators' legislation would satisfy: route notification and notification of cargo for first responders, wayside bearing detectors every ten miles, two-man crewing requirements and minimum inspection times, and increased fines and penalties to deter major violations.
One investigative piece published Tuesday in Breitbart chronicles the industry links to the advocacy groups that signed on to FreedomWorks’s letter, with the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute singling itself out as the most blatant offender.
Schweppe told TAC that “people are fed up: They understand how Washington works, and so they know that industry has a lot of influence over who supports legislation and also the legislation itself. This is legislation that’s seeking to address a real problem that industry is a little bit intransigent on.”
In response to Breitbart’s piece, Vance said in a tweet Tuesday: “Hmmm. A lot of the groups who don’t like my rail bill get paid by industry. Shocker!”
The Senate bill also boasts cosponsors from two members who are typically hawkish on these sorts of regulatory matters: Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida. Hawley said in a statement that “the safety regulations governing our nation’s railroads must be updated to ensure that a disaster like this never happens again,” and Rubio claimed that “for far too long, the rail industry, and the government agencies that regulate it, have prioritized their bottom line over safety and resiliency.”
Saurabh Sharma, president of American Moment, where Vance sits on the board of advisors, signed his name to the APP letter. Sharma explained why he signed on to the letter by pointing to the influence imbalance between small towns and large corporations: “The Washington swamp would like you to believe that real conservatism entails allowing massive rail corporations to essentially nuke small towns across America. Congress should not accept this corrupt status quo, and move forward on efficient, principled, and important regulatory reforms to this industry.” Pedro Gonzalez, editor of Chronicles Magazine, shared the same concern, and said that he signed on “because no American community is too small to fail, and no corporation or industry should be above accountability and reasonable regulation in the public interest. The world we leave behind will be the world our children inherit, and it is our responsibility to serve as its stewards for them and posterity.”
Ryan James Girdusky, a GOP political strategist and coauthor of the 2020 book They’re Not Listening: How the Elites Created the Nationalist Populist Revolution, also signed on to the letter, and suggested to TAC that the electoral stakes could not be higher: “As Republicans gear up for the 2024 election, working people will be noticing who was there for them and their kin when they were at their most vulnerable. This is a moment to shake the idea that the GOP doesn’t care about the working-class forever." He might have something there: One FiveThirtyEight poll published last month showed that 76 percent of those polled think that more oversight or regulation on the federal, state, or local level is required to ensure freight rail safety.
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The letter concludes by referring to the DEI interests of the major rail companies. If the people of East Palestine are looking for more reasons to be frustrated with Norfolk Southern, its CEO is reported to have said, “I feel very strongly about diversity and inclusion, not only as a personal value but also as a corporate value. Diversity and inclusion are keys to our corporate success and to our bottom line.”
While this corporate drivel is just as meaningless as the rest, it does signal where Norfolk Southern and companies like it place their priorities: in ideas more abstract than clean air and water and towns more fashionable than East Palestine, Ohio.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story indicated that the legislation was authored by Sen. Sherrod Brown, instead of coauthored by Sens. Brown and J.D. Vance. We regret the error.