A group of 25 Republican lawmakers, led by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Representative Sam Graves of Missouri, have initiated a coordinated effort to oppose the Biden administration’s recent move to ban the transportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) via rail.
It comes in response to the September 1st ruling by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which suspended a 2020 authorization permitting the transportation of LNG in rail tank cars.
This suspension is slated to remain in effect until a permanent rule is proposed and finalized, or until June 30, 2025, which could take several months.
In an open letter addressed to the Deputy Administrator of PHMSATristan Brown, and first reported by Fox News, Republican politicians stress that PHMSA’s primary responsibility is safety, not environmental regulation. They emphasize that LNG transportation via rail has a track record of being both safe and reliable. They also point out that PHMSA’s own data suggest that transporting hazardous materials by highway is less safe for the general public.
GOP Lawmakers Hit Back
Lawmakers are also expressing concerns about the broader implications of this suspension, suggesting it is part of the Biden administration’s wider assault on domestic fossil fuel production.
The Republicans claim that President Biden’s specific targeting of PHMSA’s LNG by rail rule through executive orders, purporting to address climate change, influenced PHMSA’s proposal to suspend the rule. They see PHMSA’s assertion that the suspension is temporary as a smokescreen, suggesting that it intends to create a permanent deterrent to LNG rail transportation.
The lawmakers argue that the suspension hinders the administration’s goal of reducing emissions. They contend that the United States has effectively reduced carbon emissions, primarily due to its clean natural gas usage, and emphasize that increased rail transportation of LNG would provide an environmentally friendly and affordable option for meeting energy needs.
PHMSA defended its suspension, asserting that it will allow time for critical research on the safe transportation of cryogenic liquids like LNG by rail, in collaboration with the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering and Canadian regulators. This research is expected to conclude within the next year and will inform future federal safety regulations.
Not Everyone Agrees
Environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Food & Water Watch have hit out at the open letter. They argue that transporting LNG by rail is dangerous, highly flammable, and vulnerable to destructive explosions that could threaten communities.
Democratic lawmakers, led by Representative Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, have also requested a permanent ban on LNG transportation via rail due to safety risks cited by these environmental organizations.
In June 2020, the Trump administration finalized a rule allowing rail shipment of LNG, which environmental groups challenged in court. Although the rule was supported by Republicans and the rail industry, the recent suspension has left its future hanging in the balance.
Georgia Gilholy is a journalist based in the United Kingdom who has been published in Newsweek, The Times of Israel, and the Spectator. Gilholy writes about international politics, culture, and education.