Oil industry sues government over train safety rules

McClatchyDC | May 12, 2015 | Column by Curtis Tate

The oil industry went to court Monday over the Obama administration’s new oil train safety rules, challenging the timeline for refitting tens of thousands of tank cars and the requirement for enhanced braking systems on the cars.

In its petition for review, filed Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the American Petroleum Institute called the provisions, unveiled May 1 by the U.S. Department of Transportation, “arbitrary, capricious, (and) an abuse of discretion.”

The industry group asked the court to set aside the provisions. It did not challenge the department’s new standard for newly constructed tank cars carrying crude oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids.

The lawsuit names Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Tim Butters, acting chief of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the agency tasked with enforcing the rules.

In public statements and filings, the oil industry hinted that it would take legal action against the department’s new rules. It had said that the department’s proposed timeline for retrofitting the large fleet of DOT-111 tank cars wasn’t realistic. It also said that the benefits of installing electronic brakes on the tank cars didn’t justify the cost.

Brian Straessle, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, said that “retrofit timelines, braking systems and other actions must all be based on facts and science to maximize the safety impact of this rule.”

Suzi Emmerling, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, called the oil industry’s lawsuit “disappointing.”

“We believe the rule will stand up to challenge in court,” she said, “and remain hopeful that industries impacted by these changes will accept their safety obligations and follow the new regulations.”

The rail industry’s principal trade group, the Association of American Railroads, also opposed the braking requirement, though it was more supportive of the retrofit timeline.

Railroads don’t own the tank cars used to transport crude oil and other flammable liquids, so the cost of retrofits largely falls on the companies that build and lease the cars. Those companies have five to 10 years to upgrade or replace the cars, depending on the commodity and the safety features the cars already have.

Environmental groups and some lawmakers, however, don’t think the new rules go far enough, and they’ve criticized the timeline as too lenient.

This post has been updated to correct the federal court the suit was filed in.

Email: ctate@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @tatecurtis

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.