A prominent conservative advocacy organization, FreedomWorks, recently sent a letter to lawmakers opposing a bi-partisan rail safety bill filed by Ohio senators J.D. Vance (R) and Sherrod Brown (D), asserting the legislation grants the Department of Transportation too much power to regulate businesses without providing significant safety enhancements.

The legislation, dubbed the Railway Safety Act of 2023, was introduced on March 1 in the aftermath of a catastrophic ecological disaster in East Palestine, Ohio. Last month, vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate spilled from a Norfolk Southern railways derailment in East Palestine, as reported by The Dallas Express.

Residents of the small town complained of adverse symptoms following the February 3 accident.  They expressed frustration with slow emergency responses from both the federal government and Norfolk Southern Railway Company. Speaking on February 12 to Ohio television news station WKBN, former Youngstown Fire Department battalion chief and hazardous materials specialist Sil Caggiano said, “We basically nuked a town with chemicals so we could get a railroad open.”

According to FreedomWorks President Adam Brandon, however, the legislation introduced to prevent further accidents is a non-starter, explaining, “Introduced following the horrible accident in East Palestine, Ohio, the legislation offers a slew of significant new regulations that would do little to improve safety while creating gross inefficiencies for thousands of businesses.”

“The provisions within the bill are much like the list of recommendations offered by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and would grant this struggling agency unimaginable authority,” he said.

Despite the statement from FreedomWorks, two other Senate Republicans, Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Josh Hawley (R-MO), joined Senator Vance in supporting the safety bill.

In a March 1 press release introducing the bill, Senator Hawley said, “What happened in East Palestine was a horrific tragedy. The safety regulations governing our nation’s railroads must be updated to ensure that a disaster like this never happens again.”

Still, the future of the Senate bill is uncertain as FreedomWorks has found allies in their fight against the safety legislation. The second most powerful Senate Republican, minority whip John Thune of South Dakota, is preparing to block the bill. He told The Hill he was “uncomfortable” giving more power to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Criticism of Thune’s pronouncement was immediate, with detractors pointing to his career as a railroad lobbyist as a possible motive for his opposition to the bill.

If the Railway Safety Act advances through Congress, President Joe Biden plans to sign it into law. In a March 2 White House press release, the President urged legislators to work together and send him a bill:

“I encourage Republicans and Democrats alike to move quickly to advance these commonsense rail safety measures and send me a bill to sign into law.”