The railroad company whose train triggered a massive explosion Monday in West Virginia had spent millions lobbying against rail oversight legislation in Congress, according to a report.
Numbers from the Washington, D.C. research group Center for Responsive Politics indicated Florida-based CSX Corp. had spent more than $56 million lobbying members of Congress since 1998, with its largest lobbying expenditures coinciding with debate over legislation to fund the Surface Transportation Board in 2009.
The legislation would have moved the board — which has oversight of railroads’ economic activity — out of the federal Department of Transportation, and would have enacted reporting requirements for the nation’s largest railroad companies.
The legislation did not move forward despite its introduction by members of both parties; CSX reportedly spent more than $5 million on lobbying purposes that year.
The Center for Responsive Politics said CSX has “lobbied heavily to protect its interests,” most notably against bills to “strengthen railroad antitrust laws” and to “give the federal government more power of oversight and regulation.”
Then-Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, was one of the co-sponsors of the Surface Transportation Board bill and had received contributions from CSX. The rail company’s contributions to the longtime senator, however, were relatively small compared to other West Virginia lawmakers, according to a report in the Charleston Gazette.
On Monday, a CSX train transporting more than 100 cars of crude oil from North Dakota’s drilling operations to the Atlantic Coast derailed in a snowstorm, exploding into a massive fireball and forcing hundreds of nearby evacuations.
The company responded after the explosion that it “remains committed to maintaining safe operations and working closely with federal, state and local organizations to return citizens to their homes as soon as safely possible.”
West Virginia’s two senators, meanwhile, dismissed concerns about the CSX contributions. Republican Shelley Moore Capito’s office said she would, as always, put “put West Virginians’ interests first,” while Democrat Joe Manchin’s office responded that the senator “has never allowed political donations to influence his decision making”
The explosion, meanwhile, continues to stir up debates on how the nation’s burgeoning oil and natural gas output should be shipped.