Calls to Ban Bomb Trains Ramp Up While Communities Await New Regulations

DeSmogBlog | December 15, 2014 | Post by Justin Mikulka

Earthjustice has challenged the Department of Transportation’s denial of a petition by Sierra Club and Forest Ethics to ban the transportation of Bakken crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars.

Most of the explosive crude oil on U.S.rails is moving in tanker cars that are almost guaranteed to fail in an accident,” explained Patti Goldman of Earthjustice.

The risks are too great to keep shipping explosive Bakken crude in defective DOT-111s. The National Transportation Safety Board called them unsafe two decades ago, and by the Department of Transportation’s own estimates, the U.S. could see 15 rail accidents every year involving these cars until we get them off the tracks.” 

At the same time Earthjustice was bringing this challenge, the Canadian government was announcing that it will ban 3,000 of the riskiest DOT-111sfrom carrying materials like Bakken crude.

And in California, where last week a train carrying grain derailed into the Feather River, democratic state senator Jerry Hill called on Governor Jerry Brown to impose a moratorium on oil trains in the state. The Feather River rail line is also used for Bakken crude oil trains.

In Toronto, the new mayor called for an end to these dangerous trains passing through the city.

I said during the campaign and I'll repeat it now, that I think we should be moving in the direction, in negotiation with the railways and the federal government, to stop movement of toxic and dangerous substances through the city at all,” reported The Star.

Perhaps the fact that the new mayor isn’t smoking crack like his predecessorhas something to do with this rather clear-headed assessment. You would, after all, have to be on crack to think running DOT-111s filled with Bakken crude through highly populated areas was an acceptable practice. 

Meanwhile in Baltimore, residents are fighting a new proposal for an oil-by-rail facility that would bring these trains right through their neighborhoods.

In addition to calls for outright bans of the DOT-111s, two states recently released new studies about the oil train issue.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo is looking for ways to fund the oil spill clean up fund for the state. The fund is projected to be in the red financially by 2016 and currently collects no fees from the oil companies transporting the Bakken and tar sands oil through the state. As many as 44 oil trains carryingat least 1,000,000 gallons of oil, and often more than 3,000,000 gallons, cross New York each week.

Cuomo criticized the federal government’s lack of movement on new oil-by-rail regulations referring to their progress as “unacceptably slow” according to The Record Online.

Over the past six months, our administration has taken swift and decisive action to increase the state’s preparedness and better protect New Yorkers from the possibility of a crude oil disaster,” Cuomo said. “Now it is time for our federal partners to do the same.”

Cuomo’s self-assessment of New York’s actions didn’t impress oil train activists. Sandy Steubing of Albany, NY, based group PAUSE isn’t pleased with the state’s progress.

“The Governor's response is lame; he's either urging other entities like the railroad and the Federal government to protect New Yorkers or he's trying to appear like the measures he's taking will protect us,” Steubing said. “There's not enough foam in the entire state to protect us from an explosive derailment the likes of which we've seen five times since July of 2013.”

Meanwhile in Washington State, the draft of the 500-page 2014 Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study was released. The report contains some staggering growth projections for oil-by-rail transportation in the state, as reported by The News Tribune.

The Department of Ecology’s report estimates that 12.7 billion gallons of oil were moved through the state by rail in 2013 alone and says 19 trains of roughly 100 tank cars each are passing through the state each week today. It predicts that traffic could mushroom to 137 weekly trains by 2020 if all proposed oil terminals and refinery expansion projects are permitted and utilized.

Facing this onslaught of oil-by-rail traffic for the state, Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee is proposing a new tax on oil transported through the state by rail.

In North Dakota, the birthplace of the modern oil-by-rail industry, meaningless new rail regulations will keep the bomb trains rolling. There is also a legal battle going on between the town of Enderlin and the rail operator Canadian Pacific. Canadian Pacific moves as many as 28 trains through Enderlin every day. Many stop and block roads and traffic in Enderlin causing traffic delays one would expect in Los Angeles but not in a town of 900 people in North Dakota.

In response, the town council made it illegal for trains to stop for more than 10 minutes in town. Now the town is being sued by Canadian Pacific. Unfortunately for the residents of Enderlin, Canadian Pacific has a strong argument that many municipalities are learning about now that they have become the home to oil train operations. 

Kansas interstate commerce attorney Bob Pottroff explained the reality to Reuters, “Right now cities don’t have the right to tell a railroad it can’t park in the middle of their town.” If Enderlin were to win, Pottroff predicted the result could have far reaching effects as other municipalities opted to take some level of control over rail traffic within their borders.

In the face of this widespread opposition to the dangers posed by the oil-by-rail industry, there just happens to be a new industry-funded study showing that no new regulations are warranted.

The Railway Supply Institute funded a report prepared by The Brattle Group that concludes that all of the proposed regulations may have benefits but in every case they have found that the costs outweigh these benefits. In addition to this conclusion, Natural Gas Intelligence reports that The Brattle Groupproposes one of the other favorite industry tactics for delaying new regulations. More research.

As communities across the country await new oil-by-rail regulations and continue to hear about close calls regarding oil train accidents the level of opposition to the dangers of transporting explosive oil in DOT-111s continues to grow. Unfortunately for them, the lobbyists for Big Oil and Big Rail are still hard at work protecting their profits above all else.

http://www.desmogblog.com/2014/12/15/calls-ban-bomb-trains-ramp-while-communities-await-new-regulations

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE works to promote safe, sustainable energy and environmental justice.  We aim to engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry's assault on the people of Albany and our environment.