Koch-Linked Groups, Including One Funded by Norfolk Southern, Line Up Against J.D. Vance’s Rail Safety Reforms

MICHIGAN, UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 18: A train derails in Michigan with several cars veeri
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In the hopes of preventing another disastrous train derailment like the one caused by Norfolk Southern that spewed toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio, Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) has filed legislation to hike fines on rail companies, tighten safety protocols, and properly notify local first responders.

Now, a host of beltway groups, including one partially funded by Norfolk Southern and others with financial ties to the Koch network, are looking to tank Vance’s legislation.

Vance has successfully brokered the legislation in the Senate with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) as a co-author and Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO), Marco Rubio (R-FL), John Fetterman (D-PA), and Bob Casey (D-PA) as co-sponsors.

Most significantly, Vance has told Breitbart News the legislation would make modest but prominent changes to rail safety regulations like requiring bearing defect detectors every 10 miles. Such a change could have prevented the derailment in East Palestine that occurred when the bearings overheated, causing the train to derail.

Likewise, Vance’s legislation requires rail companies to properly notify local firefighters and other first responders when hazardous chemicals are traveling through their communities. In the case of East Palestine, firefighters were initially unaware that they would be dealing with toxic chemicals.

Americans, by and large, back reform efforts like those offered by Vance. A poll conducted last month found that 76 percent of Americans want to see more local, state, and federal oversight of rail safety measures to prevent derailments like the one in East Palestine.

U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works

A list of executives from conservative beltway groups, though, claim the reforms “would do little to improve safety while creating gross inefficiencies for thousands of businesses” and that lawmakers ought to wait for details from the National Transportation Safety Board because “U.S. railroads are safe overall.”

The latest figures, though, show that there were nearly 1,400 U.S. train derailments in 2019 — far above the 73 derailments that occurred across the European Union despite having traveled more than five times as many rail kilometers that same year.

Among the groups opposing Vance’s legislation are FreedomWorks, the National Taxpayers Union, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the Institute for Regulatory Analysis and Engagement, Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, the Rio Grande Foundation, the 60 Plus Association, and Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions, among others.

Little is known about each of the groups’ donors, though FreedomWorks has long been tied to the Koch network’s Americans for Prosperity and the libertarian Cato Institute. Meanwhile, CEI has directly taken donations from the rail industry, including Norfolk Southern.

In 2019, for CEI’s 35th-anniversary dinner, Norfolk Southern was listed alongside Union Pacific, CSX Corporation, BNSF Railway, and the Association of American Railroads as sponsors of the event.

Other sponsors included the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the Charles Koch Institute, Amazon, AT&T, and Dick and Mary Beth Weiss. At FreedomWorks, Mary Beth Weiss sits on the board of directors.

The Rio Grande Foundation has accepted tens of thousands of dollars from the Charles Koch Institute in recent years, while the now-defunct, Koch-backed Freedom Partners group once donated almost $16 million to the 60 Plus Association.

As Breitbart News has detailed, Norfolk Southern and the rail industry’s influence in Washington, DC, is vast among both Republicans and Democrats. The industry, alone, has spent almost $700 million on lobbying lawmakers over the last two decades.

Last year, political action committees (PACs) associated with Norfolk Southern donated nearly a million dollars to Republicans and Democrats, as well as both parties’ leadership organizations, such as the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

John Binder is a reporter for Breitbart News. Email him at jbinder@breitbart.com. Follow him on Twitter here.


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