J.D. Vance Helped Lobbyists Weaken His Rail Safety Bill - The Lever

For nearly a decade, lawmakers and railroad regulators have been trying to get puncture-susceptible tank cars, designed in the 1960s for non-hazardous shipments, off the nation’s tracks. In the wake of the catastrophic derailment and chemical release in East Palestine, Ohio, in February, bipartisan rail safety legislation committed to quickly end hazardous material shipments in the antiquated tank cars, which regulators said had failed at higher rates during the Ohio derailment than updated, fortified tank cars on the same train.

But last month, the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), quietly amended his own legislation to delay the tank car change by years, at the request of rail supplier and chemical industry lobbyists. According to lobbyists’ Senate testimony, manufacturers would have been unable to comply with the faster timeline — even though one of the lobbying group’s members has previously said manufacturers could build and retrofit tank cars on this production schedule.

On May 10, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation adopted a Railway Safety Act amendment authored by Vance and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) that delayed the tank car enhancement deadline from May 2025 to December 2028 at the latest.

After the amendment passed, Vance touted the American Chemistry Council’s support for the bill — without mentioning that the lobbying group had backed the change to the tank car rules. Vance, whose home state is nurturing a growing petrochemical industry, is one of the Senate’s top recipients of chemical industry cash.

During the Railway Safety Act’s markup in early May, Vance and Cantwell introduced what is known as an “amendment in the nature of a substitute,” in which an entirely new bill replaces the existing text. The substitute passed with the support of all 14 Democrats on the committee and just two Republicans — Vance and Sen. Eric Schmitt of Missouri.

Compared to the previous version, the amended bill bolsters training requirements and funding for first responders, and removes a requirement that the Transportation Secretary set length and weight limits for hazmat trains.

But one substantial change to the bill did not appear in the senators’ press releases touting the committee vote. According to a Lever review of the text, the amended version delays a requirement that certain hazardous materials be shipped in thicker, safer tank cars by up to three and a half years. The move came as lobbyists were calling for the postponement.

For members of the American Chemistry Council, including major corporations like 3M, Dow, and DuPont, upgrading to the newer and heftier tank cars could mean higher shipping costs.

The Railway Supply Institute, a lobbying group that represents tank car manufacturers, owners, and lessors, had also pushed for the change.

The Department of Transportation’s March safety advisory on tank cars also claimed that, based on available industry data, there is sufficient manufacturing capacity to replace the antiquated tank cars “well ahead” of the existing 2029 deadline.

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The Lever

Organizations: Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation American Chemistry Council 3M Dow DuPont Railway Supply Institute United States Department of Transportation 

People: J.D. Vance Maria Cantwell 

Tags: Corruption Transportation Lobbying Railway Safety Act 

Type: Headlines