What: All Issues : Government Checks on Corporate Power : Oil & Gas Industry : H.R. 1401 (Rail and Public Transportation Security Act), Cohen of Tennessee amendment to establish a program to minimize rail transport of hazardous materials that are toxic when inhaled/Revote on agreeing to the amendment (2007 house Roll Call 199)
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H.R. 1401 (Rail and Public Transportation Security Act), Cohen of Tennessee amendment to establish a program to minimize rail transport of hazardous materials that are toxic when inhaled/Revote on agreeing to the amendment
house Roll Call 199     Mar 27, 2007
Progressive Position:
Yea
Progressive Result:
Win

This was a revote on an amendment offered by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) that had been previously approved (see Roll Call 195) by the Committee of the Whole. The amendment was attached to a $6 billion transportation security bill. Under House rules, any lawmaker -- in this case Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) -- can demand a revote by the full House on an amendment adopted in the Committee of the Whole.

The Committee of the Whole is used to expedite the business of the House and utilizes a lower quorum threshold, restricted time for debate and limits on the kinds of parliamentary maneuvers allowed. (A quorum is the minimum number of lawmakers required to get things done. In the full House a quorum is 218 Members whereas a quorum in the Committee of the Whole is only 100.)

Cohen's amendment sought to require the federal government to coordinate with state and local governments to minimize the transport of hazardous materials that are toxic when inhaled.

Every year, over 100,000 carloads of toxic chemicals and 1.6 million carloads of hazardous materials such as explosives and radioactive items are transported across the country by rail, Cohen said in a floor speech. Several derailments in 2007 and 2006 pointed to the dangers to local communities from such transport, Cohen added. "While rail is clearly the safest means of transport for such materials, we must work to ensure this transit is as secure, efficient and is as considerate towards the safety of our communities as possible," Cohen said.

Cohen said his amendment would support the state and local communities that have enacted bans on the transportation of certain toxic substances through their areas, prompting litigation from the rail industry. The language of his proposal would require the Transportation Department to minimize the time and frequency such materials pass through communities.

Rep. Daniel Lungren (R-Calif.) said Cohen's amendment was a "do-good amendment that either does nothing or does harm." Lungren said the substance of the amendment was already covered in the bill and Cohen's addition would only tie the Transportation Department's hands by requiring the secretary to minimize the transport of such materials on rail only, "which will maximize the travel on our highways." Lungren said Cohen's amendment would undermine the intent of the bill, which is to have the Transportation Department minimize threats across different modes of transport.

Cohen's amendment was approved the first time in the Committee of the Whole on a vote of 237-188. This time the vote was 234-184. Nine Republicans joined all but one Democrat in voting for it. Thus, legislation aiming to improve transit security went forward with an amendment that would require the Transportation Department to minimize the rail transport of hazardous materials that are dangerous when inhaled.

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