Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Obama official once said train-safety cost outweighed benefit

In this May 12, 2015 file photo, emergency personnel work the scene of a deadly train wreck in Philadelphia. Five years ago, federal safety officials proposed requiring video cameras in train cabs, but it didn't happen. That's left a gap as investigators try to unravel last week's fatal Amtrak derailment. Photo: Joseph Kaczmarek, AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek/file / Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- When a Republican lawmaker in 2011 asked an Obama administration Office of Management and Budget official to name regulations where costs were not justified by benefits, the official had a ready answer.
"There is only one big one that comes to mind," said Cass Sunstein, then administrator of the White House OMB's Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs. "It is called Positive Train Control.''
Even though the regulations for the $13.2 billion rail-safety system were mandated by Congress, "monetizable benefits are lower than the monetizable costs," Sunstein told then Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., at a House Energy & Commerce subcommittee hearing. "There aren't a lot like that.''
Four years later, those words may come back to haunt the Barack Obama White House and Sunstein, who has since returned to teaching law at Harvard. Safety investigators are still trying to piece together how an Amtrak train went off the track in Philadelphia last week, killing eight. It was a crash that a National Transportation Safety Board member, Robert Sumwalt, said might have been prevented had PTC been fully operational.
Sunstein's pooh-poohing of PTC in 2011 is all the more remarkable because the Obama administration's efforts to push forward regulations in a variety of areas -- notably air pollution and climate change -- against Republican accusations that they would cripple the economy.

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