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  • Yes, It Is Stupid to Blame Lack of Subsidies for Amtrak's Derailment

    May 18, 2015 2:32 PM

    This morning, Amtrak Northeast Regional service was finally reopened following last week’s tragic derailment in Philadelphia that has killed at least eight and injured approximately 200. The tragedy was predictably exploited by cynical politicians, activists, and journalists, who seem to falsely believe that flushing more subsidies down the Amtrak drain would have somehow prevented the accident. It is true the technology at issue would possibly or even likely prevented this specific crash, speeding the deployment of it would dramatically increase costs and very likely reduce overall rail safety.

    The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) continues to investigate and a final report will likely take a year or more to complete, but we know that the train was reportedly traveling at 106 mph right before it went into the 50-mph curve. By the time the engineer pulled the emergency brake, it was too late and the train entered the curve at 102 mph. The engineer is claiming he doesn’t remember right before the derailment and may have been struck by a foreign object. Yet, the NTSB has reviewed the dispatch tapes and found that the engineer did not report being struck by an object—although the NTSB and FBI are currently investigating a mark on the windshield.

    It is likely the Philadelphia derailment is largely due to human error. In a similar 2013 crash in Spain, the operator was found to have recklessly ignored speed warnings before entering a 50-mph curve at 121 mph, killing 79 and injuring 140 when the train derailed and crashed into a concrete wall. In 2005, a Japanese commuter train derailed after it entered a 43-mph curve at 72 mph, killing 106 and injuring 562. The operator was killed, but he had likely intentionally increased the speed to unsafe levels.

    Washington being what it is, partisans almost immediately began exploiting this tragedy for political gain, blaming Amtrak opponents for supposedly starving Amtrak of operating subsidies. Carl Cannon highlights some of the more shameless examples from Democratic groups and politicians, such as the Agenda Project Action Fund’s claim that “Republican Cuts Kill… Again.” They argue that Amtrak’s alleged lack of sufficient operating subsidies has delayed the rollout of a set of rail safety technologies called positive train control (PTC). House Speaker John Boehner has righty called linking Amtrak funding to the derailment “stupid.”

    But rather than learn from Speaker Boehner’s accurate rebuke, New York Sen. Charles Schumer doubled down, saying, “Speaker Boehner’s comments are patently false. Experts have made clear that Positive Train Control could have prevented the tragedy in Philadelphia. It is simply a fact that insufficient funding for Amtrak has delayed the installation of PTC, and to deny a connection between the accident and underfunding Amtrak is to deny reality.”

    Yes, Sen. Schumer, it is stupid to make this absurd suggestion. To understand why it is baseless, you need understand a little bit about the history of PTC and Amtrak.

    Amtrak was created in 1970 to provide emergency passenger rail service throughout much of the United States. The private railroads were dying under a stultifying regulatory regime, leading to many bankruptcies, with members of Congress fearing the U.S. would lose passenger and freight rail service. The railroads had been cross-subsidizing passenger rail for decades, but while they were circling the drain in the 1970s, the passenger service mandates became too much to bear. It was widely believed that Amtrak would be temporary, and that deregulated railroads would either retake control of the passenger routes or intercity passenger rail would simply end up in the dustbin of history.

    Unfortunately, Amtrak has a small but powerful constituency and taxpayers have now doled out more than $45 billion in subsidies to keep Amtrak afloat. Amtrak accounts for just 0.15 percent of passenger-miles and 0.8 percent of trips more than 50 miles in the U.S.

  • CEI's Battered Business Bureau: The Week in Regulation

    May 18, 2015 10:48 AM

    It was a slow week despite more than 1,300 Federal Register pages, with just 36 proposed regulations and fewer than 50 final regulations, ranging from spearmint oil to flying over Baghdad.

    On to the data:

    • Last week, 46 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 65 the previous week.
    • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every three hours and 39 minutes.
    • So far in 2015, 1,111 final regulations have been published in the Federal Register. At that pace, there will be a total of 2,955 new regulations this year, which would be several hundred fewer rules than the usual total of 3,500-plus.
    • Last week, 1,333 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,609 pages the previous week.
    • Currently at 28,039 pages, the 2015 Federal Register is on pace for 74,572 pages.
    • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. Eight such rules have been published so far this year, none in the past week.
    • The total estimated compliance cost of 2015’s economically significant regulations ranges from $917 million to $970 million for the current year.
    • 92 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” have been published so far this year.
    • So far in 2015, 196 new rules affect small businesses; 30 of them are classified as significant. 
  • Dodd-Frank’s Thousands of Commandments and Near-Zero Benefits

    May 15, 2015 3:37 PM

    Among the Ten Thousand Commandments in Wayne Crews’s annual survey of the federal regulatory state, are thousands of federal financial rules added by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act – whose unfinished implementation has already cost the economy billions, perhaps close to a trillion dollars. (In Crews’ related study “Tip of the Costberg,” he calculates from official government figures that compliance and indirect costs of financial regulation total $79.125 billion annually. But he cites estimates that some of the law’s provisions could have a cost to the economy exceeding $1 trillion.)

    This is similar to the American Action Forum study released last week, which found that Dodd-Frank, based on the economic effects of increasing the cost of lending, could result in the loss of  “$895 billion in reduced Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the 2016-2025 period, or $3,346 per working age person.”

  • Regulation: A Hidden Tax

    May 15, 2015 10:50 AM

    The scope and impact of federal regulations is staggering. Today, the unbudgeted costs of regulation now exceed half the amount the U.S. federal government spends annually.

    In CEI's latest edition of Ten Thousand Commandments Wayne Crews shows a $1.88 trillion "hidden tax" on American consumers, businesses and the U.S. economy from federal regulations and intervention.

    By making the size, extent and cost of Washington's rules and mandates more comprehensible, Crews helps Americans better understand how regulations affect them and makes the case for more review, transparency, and accountability for both new and existing federal regulations.

    Check out our new infographic that illustrates some of the report's key findings.

  • Right to Work is Right for Missouri

    May 14, 2015 3:15 PM

    On May 12, Missouri took a great leap forward toward becoming the 26th right to work (RTW) state. First, the State Senate passed the bill 21-13. Then on May 13, the Missouri House sent the RTW bill to Governor Jay Nixon's desk with a vote of 92-66.

    Hopefully the below facts can persuade Gov. Nixon to get past partisan politics and do what is right for his state’s citizens by signing RTW into law. Further, he should take note that 54 percent of Missourians support RTW against only 34 percent opposed, according to a survey conducted by the Missouri Alliance for Freedom and former Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones.

  • Ten Thousand Commandments

    May 14, 2015 2:26 PM

    The 2015 edition of Ten Thousand Commandments is out now. The report gives a 30,000-foot view of the federal regulatory state: how many new regulations come out each year (3,500+), how much they cost ($1.88 trillion annually), and other important information, along with a menu of reform ideas.

    This kind of big-picture information is readily available for the federal budget, but not the regulatory state. 10KC is an effort to make the government’s most opaque branch a little more transparent.

    You can read the whole report here. If you prefer a shorter version, the Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial summarizing the study’s main findings, as did Investor’s Business Daily and the Washington Times. Wayne Crews and I also have an op-ed in today’s Fresno Bee:

    And although members of Congress like to blame agencies for these costs, lawmakers share part of the blame… While Congress passed 224 laws last year, agencies issued 16 times more new regulations - 3,554 new rules in total. This huge disparity between laws passed and regulations issued by unelected agency officials can be described as an "unconstitutionality index," which averaged 26 regulations issued for every law passed over the last decade.


  • CEI Shows Support for Sen. Capito's Greenhouse Gas Legislation

    May 13, 2015 12:59 PM

    Today the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) showed its support of a new legislative effort to pushback against the “Clean Power” Plan. Introduced by U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the ARENA Act is new greenhouse gas legislation that will be addressed today at a press conference on Capitol Hill.

    Myron Ebell, CEI’s director of the Center for Energy and Environment said:

    CEI strongly supports Senator Capito's bipartisan legislation and other efforts to block the Environmental Protection Agency's so-called ‘Clean Power’ Plan. The EPA's proposed regulations go far beyond the authority Congress delegated in the Clean Air Act. If fully implemented, the regulations will raise energy prices in States where electricity is still affordable into copies of California's failing economy.

    See more on CEI’s work on related topics here.

  • U.S. Pollinator Policy Should Focus on Facts Rather than Alarmism

    May 13, 2015 12:13 PM

    Today, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research is holding a hearing on “pollinator health” to discuss a national strategy designed to improve honeybee health. Hopefully, U.S. regulators and legislators will not move too quickly on a strategy that is governed by alarmism; rather, they should take a deliberative approach that is based on science and good information. They should avoid the rash approach taken by European policy makers, which is increasingly proving unwarranted and counterproductive.

    The issue erupted in Europe a few years ago, and European lawmakers jumped the gun by deciding to ban a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids that environmental activists claimed were wreaking havoc on honeybee populations. Supposedly, this ban would stop a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, in which most worker bees disappear often after winter hibernation, leaving behind a healthy queen, honey, and male honeybee drones in the hive. But even before the ban could take effect, research shows that honeybees in Europe are suffering fewer post-winter losses than originally believed or expected. And the most recent data indicate that honeybee health is improving, and survival is relatively high.

    The ban took effect December 2013, which means farmers had access to neonicotinoids for all growing seasons until the spring of 2014. So far, there have been two years of data collected measuring post-winter hive survival rates in Europe during 2012-2014. Bees from the hives covered in this survey foraged in the springs and summers of 2012 and 2013—all before the ban took effect in December 2014.

  • This Week Is Infrastructure Week

    May 12, 2015 4:19 PM

    In the lead-up to the May 31 sunset date for federal highway funding, this week is “Infrastructure Week”—a week for scholars, advocates, and policy makers to debate needed long-term technologies, policies, and reforms on a wide range of infrastructure topics. Competitive Enterprise Institute transportation policy expert Marc Scribner has put forward specific reforms focused on infrastructure such as user-based revenue collection and expanded debt financing.

    “Government monopolies in infrastructure are misallocating resources and increasingly failing to serve their ‘customers’”, said Scribner. “Instead, lawmakers need to adopt policies that allow for improved transportation infrastructure provision. For the nation’s highways and airports, the most important reform right now is allowing modern user-based revenue collection and increasing debt financing, while reducing tax-funded federal grants. The improvements include all-electronic tolling, expanding the use of private activity bonds, and a modernized airport passenger facility charge, and would let consumers directly support services they actually use.”

    For more on CEI’s work on transportation policy, see CEI’s agenda for Congress, Free to Prosper.

    Also note that CEI president Lawson Bader is speaking on a Thursday panel on the economic impact of airports in America and what reforms are needed. > Thinking Beyond the Runway: A Look at How Airports Help Our Economy Take Off

  • Ten Thousand Commandments 2015: A Fact Sheet

    May 12, 2015 12:42 PM

    Ten Thousand Commandments is the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s annual survey of the size, scope and cost of federal regulations, and how they affect American consumers, businesses, and the U.S. economy. Authored by CEI Vice President for Policy Clyde Wayne Crews, Jr., it shines a light on the large, growing “hidden tax” of America’s regulatory state.

    The scope of federal government spending, deficits and the national debt is staggering, but so is the impact of federal regulations, which now exceeds half the amount the federal government spends annually. Unfortunately, regulations get too little attention in policy debates because, unlike taxes, they are unbudgeted. They are also difficult to quantify because their effects are often indirect. In Ten Thousand Commandments, Crews compiles available data on regulatory costs and trends. By making the size, extent and cost of Washington’s rules and mandates more comprehensible, Crews underscores the need for more review, transparency and accountability—for both new and existing federal regulations.

    Highlights of the 2015 edition include:


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