Washington regulator unaware of oil train consultant’s connections

Repost from The Oregonian / OregonLive
[Editor:  The consultant’s connections with BNSF were noted nearly a month ago here and in Curtis Tate’s McClatchy DC report.  On November 24 Tate wrote, “The rail spill analysis portion of the Washington state draft document was written in part by three consultants who are former employees of BNSF and its predecessor, Burlington Northern. In addition to the state agency for which they prepared the analysis, their clients include BNSF and the Port of Vancouver.”  I  understand that the Washington agency that hired the consultant, the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, was asked about the possible conflict of interest in advance of publication of Tate’s article, but they never got back to him.  Staff at the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council should have been aware well in advance of the Oregonian story.  – RS]

Washington regulator unaware of oil train consultant’s connections

By Rob Davis, Dec. 17, 2015, updated Dec.18, 2015 9:44 AM
vancouver oil train
An oil train parked outside Vancouver, Wash., in 2014. A terminal proposed there would bring four oil trains to the city each day. (Rob Davis/Staff)

A consulting firm that helped write a report underestimating the risks of catastrophic spills from a proposed Vancouver oil train terminal has worked for two groups that will gain financially if the project moves forward.

Stephen Posner, the Washington energy regulator who approved the company’s hiring, didn’t know about all those connections until The Oregonian/OregonLive told him. But he did not answer repeated questions about whether he would investigate further.

Three of the four authors who wrote the risk analysis for Washington’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council are former executives of BNSF Railway Co. The railroad would move oil trains to the Vancouver terminal.

The authors’ company, MainLine Management, lists BNSF as a client on its website.

MainLine, which didn’t respond to repeated queries, recently worked for another project supporter: the Port of Vancouver, which owns the land where the terminal would be built.

Much remains unclear about MainLine’s relationships with BNSF and the port. It is not known whether BNSF is a current MainLine client. It’s also unclear whether MainLine’s past work for the port would constitute a conflict.

Washington law prohibits the energy council from hiring consultants with a significant conflict of interest with a project’s applicant or others involved.

MainLine finished its work for the port before it was hired to analyze the terminal. The port awarded a $121,000 contract to MainLine in April 2013 to analyze part of its freight rail system serving the oil train terminal. A port spokeswoman said the final payment was sent to MainLine Sept. 25, 2014, four months before the firm was hired to analyze oil spill risks.

The relationships raise questions about the thoroughness of Washington’s review of the experts it’s using to independently evaluate the Vancouver oil terminal.

The $210 million terminal proposed by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Services is the highest profile project pending before the Washington energy council.

The small agency is designed to be a one-stop permitting shop for major energy projects, studying their impacts and recommending a decision to Gov. Jay Inslee. The governor has final approval.

Posner, the agency’s manager, approved hiring MainLine. He said he was unaware the firm listed BNSF as a client until The Oregonian/OregonLive told him.

But neither Posner nor an agency spokeswoman, Amanda Maxwell, would commit to inquiring further about whether the company has a current connection with BNSF.

Before MainLine was hired, Posner said he discussed the company with Washington’s lead consultant, Cardno. He said his agency relied on Cardno to vet MainLine’s clients and past work.

How did Cardno review MainLine’s potential conflicts? That’s unclear. Posner told The Oregonian/OregonLive to direct that question to Cardno, which didn’t immediately respond.

Cardno has provided written assurance that its subcontractors, including MainLine, are forbidden to discuss the terminal with any outside party, Maxwell said.

“This written assurance provided by Cardno is the basis for trusting in the credibility of the work being performed,” she said.

When we asked Posner whether he was concerned that MainLine could have a conflict, the spokeswoman, Maxwell, interrupted, saying it was inappropriate for him to comment.

“Without having the information, it’s not something he could put in context,” she said.

The agency should have that knowledge and be able to answer such a question, said Robert Stern, a good government advocate who helped write California’s post-Watergate conflict of interest law. He said the energy agency’s review appeared inadequate.

“Maybe they don’t have any conflicts, but how do you know?” Stern said. “There should be something in writing saying we have no conflicts of interest.”

Both BNSF and the Port of Vancouver stand to benefit financially from the project’s construction. The port estimates netting $45 million in lease revenue from the project over 10 years. BNSF has rallied supporters to send comments to the energy council praising the project, saying its construction would strengthen the rail company’s customer base.

Gus Melonas, a BNSF spokesman, didn’t specifically answer a question about whether MainLine is currently under contract with the railroad.

“BNSF does not discuss specific relationships involving contract companies,” Melonas said by email, “however MainLine Management Inc. has worked with Northwest agencies providing modeling on rail related projects.”

If built, the Vancouver project would be the Pacific Northwest’s largest oil train terminal, capable of unloading 15 million gallons of oil from four trains daily. The oil would be put on barges and sent to coastal refineries.

It has drawn strong opposition from Vancouver elected officials and environmental groups amidst a string of fiery oil train explosions nationwide since 2013.

The report co-authored by MainLine lowballed those risks. It called a 2013 oil train spill in Aliceville, Alabama the worst on record, using it to analyze impacts of a disaster in the Pacific Northwest. The study said a slightly larger spill is “the most credible or realistic” worst-case scenario.

But a far larger spill has already happened. An out-of-control oil train derailed and exploded in Quebec in July 2013, fueling a raging inferno that killed 47 people and leveled part of a small Canadian town.

The analysis incorrectly said the Quebec accident spilled just 36,000 gallons of crude. Far more did. Canadian safety regulators concluded 1.5 million gallons escaped from tank cars. Much of it burned in the resulting fire.

Just a third as much oil spilled in the Alabama accident.

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    Federal spending deal falls short on environment

    Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

    Spending deal falls short on environment

    By Annie Notthoff, December 17, 2015  |  Annie Notthoff is director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s California advocacy program.
    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

    The spending and tax policy agreement Congress and the White House have reached to keep the government funded and running includes important wins for health and the environment.

    But there’s good news to report, only because of the Herculean efforts of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the White House, who worked tirelessly to block nearly all of the dozens and dozens of proposals Republican leaders were pushing.

    Those proposals would have blocked action on climate, clean air, clean water, land preservation and wildlife protection and stripped key programs of needed resources. The Republican leaders’ proposals were the clearest expression yet of their “just say no” approach to environmental policy. They literally have no plan, except to block every movement forward on problems that threaten our health and our planet.

    The worst aspect of the budget agreement is another clear indication of Republican leaders’ misplaced priorities — they exacted an end to the decades-long ban on sending U.S. crude oil overseas in this bill, in return for giving up on key elements of their antienvironment agenda.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made that give-away to the oil industry one of his top priorities. It will mean increased oil drilling in the U.S., with all the attendant dangers, with the benefits going to oil companies and overseas purchasers. That won’t help the American public, or the climate. It’s simply an undeserved gift to Big Oil.

    In good news, the agreement extends tax credits for wind and solar energy for five years, which will give those industries long-sought certainty about their financing.

    Wind and solar will continue to grow by leaps and bounds, helping domestic industry, reducing carbon pollution and making the U.S. less vulnerable to the ups and downs of fossil fuel prices.

    Democratic leaders deserve all our thanks for what they were able to keep out of the budget deal. Gone are the vast majority of obstacles Republican leaders tried to throw in the way of environmental protection. Recall for a moment the 100 or more antienvironmental provisions Republican leaders tried to attach to these spending bills. Those included efforts to:

    • Block the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which sets the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants — our best available tool to combat dangerous climate change.

    • Roll back the Obama Administration’s Clean Water Rule, which would restore protections for the potential drinking water supplies of 1 in 3 Americans.

    • Repeal the EPA’s newly issued health standards to protect us from smog.

    • Bar the Interior Department from protecting our streams from the pollution generated by mountaintop removal during coal mining.

    • Strip Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves, the greater sage grouse, elephants, the Sonoran Desert tortoise, and other threatened animals.

    • Force approval of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, which President Obama already has rejected.

    There’s more work ahead to protect the environment, starting with eliminating the threat of oil drilling in the Arctic and off the Atlantic Coast.

    But despite the efforts of Republican congressional leaders to hold the public hostage and bring us to the brink of another government shutdown, a budget deal has emerged that protects environmental progress.

     

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      Top 3 Myths on Oil Export Ban; Meet the Lobbyists; Paris Agreement Should Spook; Climate Denial Scandal; 5 Stocks to Watch

      From an E-ALERT by DeSmogBlog
      Five excellent reports distributed by email on Dec 17, 2015

      Top Three Myths Used to Sell the Lifting of the Crude Oil Export Ban, A Climate and Security Disaster In The Making

      It can be difficult to win an argument when you have no viable position. However, when you are the oil industry, you can just buy the win. Which is what the oil industry is poised to do regarding the lifting of the crude oil export ban.

      The GOP is currently holding up Congressional action needed to avoid a government shutdown by demanding inclusion of the lifting of the crude oil export ban in the government spending package.

      Here are some of the disingenuous arguments the oil industry has paid to have members of Congress make over the past two years. Read more.

      Meet the Lobbyists and Big Money Interests Pushing to End the Oil Exports Ban

      The ongoing push to lift the ban on exports of U.S.-produced crude oil appears to be coming to a close, with Congress agreeing to a budget deal with a provision to end the decades-old embargo.

      Just as the turn from 2014 to 2015 saw the Obama Administration allow oil condensate exports, it appears that history may repeat itself this year for crude oil. Industry lobbyists, a review of lobbying disclosure records by DeSmog reveals, have worked overtime to pressure Washington to end the 40-year export ban — which will create a global warming pollution spree. Read more.

      Historic Paris Climate Agreement Should Spook Fossil Fuel Markets and Escalate Clean Tech Investment

      World leaders reached an historic agreement in Paris moments ago, capping off the COP21 climate talks with a unanimous deal among 195 countries to curb global warming pollution and hasten the clean energy transition. The gavel just fell on the Paris Agreement, and it’s time to celebrate.

      Is it enough to please everyone? No. Will people continue to suffer from climate-charged extreme weather events? Yes. But it is a welcome change from previous summit failures. Read more.

      In Midst of ExxonMobil Climate Denial Scandal, Company Hiring Climate Change Researcher

      Caught in the crosshairs of an ongoing New York Attorney General investigation exploring its role in studying the damage climate change could cause since the 1970’s and then proceeding to fund climate science denial campaigns, ExxonMobil has announced an interesting job opening.

      No, not the new lawyer who will soon send the “private empire” billable hours for his defense work in the New York AG probe, though that’s a story for another day. Exxon is hiring for a climate change researcher to work in its Annandale, New Jersey research park facility. Read more.

      Five Energy Stocks to Watch After Paris Climate Agreement

      With a new global agreement on climate change gaveled into the history books in Paris tonight, many people including me believe we have just witnessed the end of the fossil fuel era.

      So-called “pure play” fossil fuel companies that have not significantly diversified into other areas of energy production will be huddled in boardrooms this week trying to figure out what the Paris Agreement means to their bottom line. Read more.

       

       

       

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        Breaking: Emergency Calls Needed to Protect Oil Export Ban

        Action Alert from the Center for Biological Diversity

        TELL THE SENATE AND PRESIDENT TO PROTECT THE OIL EXPORT BAN

        Fracking illustration
        Fracking illustration courtesy Flickr/Jared Rodriguez, Truthout.

        America’s decades-old crude oil export ban is under urgent threat of repeal through backroom dealing and an imminent vote on a congressional spending bill. The ban is a critical safeguard against climate change and the damages and risks of fracking.

        Lifting the ban would massively boost oil production at a time when the science demands that we must leave at least 80 percent of remaining fossil fuels in the ground. The combustion of the additional oil that would be produced is estimated to generate more than515 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year — the equivalent annual greenhouse gas emissions of 135 coal-fired power plants or more than 100 million passenger cars.

        If this horrendous bill passes, communities across America will face more pollution, illness and disruption from drilling and fracking. We can’t afford to lift the crude oil export ban just to contribute to Big Oil’s windfall profits.

        Phone calls to your senators and the White House are urgently needed. Here are some talking points. Type in your ZIP code below to get your senators’ numbers, then let us know you called. 

        For senators:

        Hi, my name is ______, and I live in ______. I’m calling to urge you to vote NO on the omnibus bill that repeals the crude oil export ban. Lifting the ban would increase oil production and damage from fracking and other dangerous drilling while undercutting progress fighting climate change. It will increase Big Oil’s profits at our expense. No deal could justify lifting the 40-year-old crude oil export ban.

        Please — vote against any bill that lifts the crude oil export ban or has other sneak attacks on our environment and democracy.

        Can you tell me how Senator X plans to vote? Thank you.

        For the White House: 

        Hi, my name is ______, and I live in ______. I’m calling to urge you to veto the omnibus bill that repeals the crude oil export ban. Lifting the ban would increase oil production and damage from fracking and other dangerous drilling while undercutting progress fighting climate change. It will increase Big Oil’s profits at our expense. No deal could justify lifting the 40-year-old crude oil export ban.

        Please veto any bill that lifts the crude oil export ban or has other sneak attacks on our environment and democracy.

        Contact information for your Senators and the White House: Click here to go to the Centers for Biological Diversity page, then scroll to the bottom to look up and use your zip code for contact info.

        Please take action by Jan. 31, 2016.

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