An Update from Washington- Fighting a proposed peanut ban and Congressional response to the oil spill
The Department of Transportation (DOT) recently released a series of proposals to ban or restrict the distribution of peanuts on commercial airline flights in the United States. In response to the proposed changes, I drafted a letter to DOT Secretary Ray LaHood to outline my concerns with banning peanuts on airlines. A ban would cause great harm to the peanut industry in Alabama, which provides thousands of jobs and pumps hundreds of millions of dollars in the economy.
This is not the first time these policies have been considered. Similar guidance was offered by the DOT in 1998 but was ultimately abandoned after Congress barred the use of funds to implement suggested changes to airline peanut policy. The proposed changes include: a complete ban, a requirement that airlines offer a “peanut free” flight if requested in advance by a passenger with a peanut allergy, or a requirement to create “peanut-free buffer zones’’ on flights for passengers with allergies.
It is my belief that any ban or restriction on peanuts in airplanes is not supported by science and is a clear case of overreach on the part of the federal government. The result would inevitably be the loss of American jobs and a huge blow to one of the economic engines in Southeast Alabama. While I understand that some travelers are anxious about the possibility of allergic reactions to airborne peanut particles in airplanes, scientific research shows this concern is unwarranted, suggesting that the DOT’s proposal is a solution in search of a problem.
At the time this column is written, I plan to have a conference call scheduled on Tuesday with Secretary LaHood to express my strong disapproval of the proposed changes. Other Members of Congress who represent districts with high peanut yields have also expressed similar concerns.
It is my hope that DOT will rethink these proposals. If they move forward with the proposed ban, however, Congress can take action to block any funds being used to implement a peanut ban, as they did in 1998. Please be assured I will continue to fight against a peanut ban.
Congressional action taken on oil spill
Last week, the House unanimously passed a bill to allow the administration and Coast Guard to make unlimited withdrawals from the Oil Liability Trust Fund- up to $1 billion total- for responding to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Under current law, the administration is allowed to use up to $50 million a year from the trust fund to respond to a specific oil spill. The Coast Guard is able to access an additional $100 million if deemed necessary. Due to the magnitude of the BP oil spill, it is estimated that the Coast Guard will soon exhaust all funds available to respond to the disaster in the Gulf.
The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund was funded in 1990 in response to the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in Alaska. Estimated to contain $1.6 billion, its funding source is a 8-cents-per-barrel fee on oil companies. As under current law, the bill passed on Thursday keeps the $1.5 billion limit to use for responding to any one specific disaster. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that additional funding would be recovered from those responsible for the oil spill.
The Senate has already passed the same measure and the bill now heads to the White House to be signed into law. This is the first and most significant step that Congress has taken to respond to the BP oil spill. In fact, this week the Energy and Commerce Committee is questioning five oil company CEOs, as well as BP’s Tony Hayward. Additionally, the Resources Committee is holding hearings on proposals to reform the Minerals Management Service and to allocate resources for the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
I am very concerned about the long term effect and response to the oil spill, and I know you are as well. In a recent telephone town hall, many constituents had questions about the oil spill and 60% of participants believed the government was not doing a good job of handling the response. I hope these hearings will yield bipartisan solutions to better respond to the oil spill.
As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call our offices in Montgomery at (334) 277-9113, Dothan at (334) 794-9680, Opp at (334) 493-9253, or Ozark at (334) 445-4600. You can also visit the website at www.bright.house.gov to sign up for the e-newsletter.
It is my great pleasure to serve you and the entire Second District of Alabama.