Riverkeeper sues U.S. DOT over oil train safety rules

Times Union | May 18, 2015 | Column by Brian Nearing

The Hudson River environmental advocacy group Riverkeeper is challenging new U.S. Department of Transportation crude-by-rail standards in federal court, saying that they fail to protect the public and the environment from proven threats, according to a statement issued Monday.

The release states: Riverkeeper filed its lawsuit in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City on May 15, a little more than a week after the DOT issued a final tank car and railroad operation rule which had been the subject of scrutiny and controversy since its proposal in 2014. The suit closely follows another filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by a coalition of conservation and citizen groups that includes Earthjustice, Waterkeeper Alliance, ForestEthics and the Sierra Club.

The Hudson River and the Greater New York/New Jersey region, a thoroughfare for up to 25 percent of all crude shipments originating in the Bakken shale oil region, faces a daily risk of spills and explosions that could devastate communities, local economies, drinking water security, and the environment.

“These seriously flawed standards all but guarantee that there will be more explosive derailments, leaving people and the environment at grave risk,” Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay said. “The shortcomings are numerous, including an inadequate speed limit, unprotective tank car design, and time line that would allow these dangerous tank cars 10 more years on the rails. The DOT completely fails to recognize that we’re in the middle of a crisis – we don’t need bureaucratic half measures that are years away from implementation, we need common-sense protections today.”

Just this month, tank cars laden with crude oil derailed and exploded in Heimdal, North Dakota. Under the new DOT standards, the same type of cars that exploded in that disaster could stay in service hauling volatile crude oil for another five to eight years, or even indefinitely if they are used for tar sands.

Over the past several years, a series of fiery derailments, toxic spills, and explosions involving volatile crude and ethanol rail transport has caused billions in damages across North America. Crude-by-rail accidents threaten irreversible damage to waterways, many of which, like the Hudson River, serve as the source of drinking water for tens of thousands of people. This year alone,six oil-by-rail shipments have caught fire and exploded in North America. In July 2013, a derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killed 47 people. The total liabilities for that rail disaster could easily reach $2.7 billion over the next decade.

Here are some of the ways the new safety standards fail to protect people and the environment:

• Hazardous cars carrying volatile crude oil can remain in service for up to 10 years.

• The rule rolls back public notification requirements, leaving communities and first responders in the dark about explosive crude oil tank cars rumbling through their towns.

• While new tank cars will require thicker shells to mitigate punctures and leaks, retrofit tank cars will be allowed to stay in use with a less protective design standard.

• Speed limits have been restricted only for “high threat urban areas,” but only two areas in New York have received that designation, Buffalo and New York City.

• The “high threat” category relates to cities seen as vulnerable to terrorist attacks by the Department of Homeland Security. It is unrelated to actual risks posed by crude-by-rail.

http://blog.timesunion.com/business/riverkeeper-sues-u-s-dot-over-oil-train-safety-rules/66349/

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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.