Open letter to Rep. Thompson, Sens. Feinstein & Harris – Oil and Flammable Material Rail Transportation Safety Act

By Roger Straw, January 30, 2019

Dear Rep. Thompson, Sen. Feinstein and Sen. Harris:

Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent

I read today that U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, Washington 3rd District, reintroduced her 2018 bill to undo the reckless action of the Trump Administration’s Department of Transportation.  (See article from The Columbian reposted at right (or below).

Please review this important legislation,  H.R.851, the Oil and Flammable Material Rail Transportation Safety Act(Link goes to Congress.gov.)

Recall that my city, Benicia, California, is traversed by a major Union Pacific rail line that transports hazardous materials to and from refineries in the Bay Area.

During Benicia’s  lengthy and successful 2013-2017 opposition to Valero Refinery’s “Crude by Rail” proposal, Benicia residents and officials became highly aware of the need for “Positive Train Control,” (PTC), or electronically controlled pneumatic braking systems.  This essential safety measure was initiated after a horrific crash in our state in 2008, and has suffered long delays due to railroad intransigence.  Background from the Sacramento Bee:

The federal government first mandated the PTC system for major railroads after a Metrolink passenger train engineer became distracted by text messages on his cell phone, causing the train to go through a red signal and crash head-on into a freight train. The 2008 crash killed 25.

Railroads have been slow to install the system, complaining it is complicated and costly. The federal government has repeatedly extended the deadline for railroads to have the system fully up, tested and running. The initial deadline of 2015 was first extended to the end of 2018, but that deadline, too, was extended for some railroads to 2020.

As you may be aware, last September the Trump administration gutted previously adopted rail safety regulations calling for PTC and other rail safety measures.  See background from the Associated Press and several others.

Also please be aware of an investigation initiated by Sens. Wyden and Merkley of Oregon.

Please review this important legislation, H.R.7076, the Oil and Flammable Material Rail Transportation Safety Act and consider joining with Rep. Herrera Beutler in support.

Roger Straw
Benicia, California
The Benicia Independent

Repost from The Columbian

WA Rep. moves to reinstate rail safety rules – Trump admin rolled back Obama-era regulations last year

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, has reintroduced a bill to reinstate oil train safety regulations. The rules, implemented by the Obama administration in 2015, were rolled back last year.

The regulations required trains carrying oil or other flammable materials to update air-controlled braking systems with electronic brakes. But the U.S. Department of Transportation previously determined the cost to outfit trains with new braking systems outweighed the safety benefit.

Herrera Beutler first introduced the bill, known as the Oil and Flammable Material Rail Transportation Safety Act, to bring back the safety requirements in October.

“With trains carrying hazardous materials through Southwest Washington, it is paramount we increase safety for the nearby communities,” Herrera Beutler said in a press release. “I’m committed to reversing the decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation to ease this critical safety regulation, and reinstating the braking upgrade requirement for trains carrying flammable liquids.”

The Washington State Department of Ecology classifies Southwest Washington as a major oil train corridor, with hundreds of millions of gallons of crude oil moving through the region each year.

“As a community that has oil trains regularly running through our commercial areas, neighborhoods and downtown, Vancouver is very supportive and appreciative of Congresswoman Herrera Beutler’s efforts to reinstate the requirement that oil trains transition to the much more effective electronic pneumatic brakes,” Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said in a press release.

 

 

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    Trump shielded Big Oil from government shutdown effects

    Repost from the San Jose Mercury News

    Administration brought back furloughed employees to plan for radically expanding offshore oil and gas drilling

    By MARY CREASMAN, January 27, 2019 at 7:15 am, updated January 28, 2019 at 4:16 am
    Tug boats transport an oil platform, in this photograph taken above Ingleside, Texas, on May 5, 2017. | Eddie Seal/Bloomberg News

    President Trump’s government shutdown held our communities hostage over a racist and environmentally destructive border wall.

    Hundreds of thousands of federal workers were forced to go without paychecks while the bills piled up. (How long could you go without a paycheck?) Our national parks suffered what could be permanent damage. Public health protections and safeguards against pollution were put on hold.

    But one industry continued with business as usual — oil and gas.

    During the shutdown, Acting Interior Secretary and former oil lobbyist David Bernhardt brought back furloughed employees to continue working on plans to radically expand offshore oil and gas drilling.

    Leasing our oceans to polluters is apparently an “essential” function for this administration. As drafted, the plans would open nearly all of our nation’s coasts to oil and gas drilling, including California’s shoreline — where there have been no federal lease sales since 1984.

    The offshore drilling expansion itself is unacceptable, but the fact that the Trump administration prioritized work on it during the shutdown is a slap in the face to the furloughed federal employees and all Californians who care about our beaches and healthy oceans.

    And the Interior Department’s efforts to advance offshore drilling wasn’t Trump’s only effort to keep the oil and gas industry happy despite the shutdown.

    While thousands of other government employees were furloughed, the Trump administration was quietly moving ahead with its efforts to advance drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Western Arctic region of Alaska.

    Similarly, even as national parks remained largely unstaffed, the Bureau of Land Management, an agency in the Interior Department, moved forward on 22 new drilling permit applications on public lands in Alaska, North Dakota, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

    This blatant catering to the oil industry is unprecedented. The shutdown was so good for Big Oil that the head of the American Petroleum Institute — the oil industry’s main trade association — admitted they “have not seen any major effects of the shutdown on our industry.”

    That statement contrasts deeply with the harm imposed elsewhere by the shutdown. Here in California, communities suffering from drinking water contamination had to wait for the EPA to reopen for action on toxic chemicals.

    Overflowing trash bins and toilets, permanent vandalism and destruction left lasting damage on our national parks, and these places had to rely on volunteers to fill the gaps while federal workers and contractors were forced off the job. Joshua Tree National Park, for example, saw visitors chopping down iconic Joshua trees, illegal off-roading and graffiti — and the Park Service didn’t have staff to investigate.

    These misplaced priorities should not come as a surprise given the Trump administration’s efforts, from Day 1, to sell our public lands and waters to Big Oil and other corporate polluters. The administration is stacked with industry executives focused on profits over people.

    Our environment and our communities deserved better than the needless damage inflicted by the Trump shutdown. Thankfully, we have representatives in Congress who will fight to protect our coast.

    Reps. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, have introduced legislation that would preserve California’s coast from the Trump administration’s drilling expansion. And California voters decisively sent a bold and pro-environment freshman class to the House of Representatives to stand up to Trump’s toxic agenda.

    The Trump administration is shameless about its agenda to ruin our environment and poison our families, all to ensure more corporate profits. But California is paying attention, and we won’t let it happen.

    Mary Creasman is CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters.
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      Time to update Benicia’s Climate Action Plan

      By Roger Straw, January 23, 2019

      It’s time to update the City of Benicia’s 10-year-old Climate Action plan.  This is especially important in 2019 in consideration of:

      • hugely consequential recent international and U.S. scientific findings on climate change (see links below), and
      • new California laws and target dates for meeting climate and pollution goals (links below).

      Updating the Climate Action Plan could be initiated by City staff and the Community Sustainability Commission.  The Commission could consider this as part of its work plan for the next year (2019).

      Barriers to this could be budget issues, possible lack of council support and staff capacity.  The way the Commission overcame the lack of staff 10 years ago was through the working groups that provided invaluable insight, work products and so forth.  From 2012-2014, we also had a staff Climate Action Coordinator, who, if restored, could provide invaluable service for this effort.

      RESOURCES

      Benicia’s CAP:

      On the City of Benicia’s Sustainability page you can find the 10-year-old 2009 Climate Action Plan.  (Only sections are available there – no link to the whole document.)  Here is my link for viewing or downloading the entire Benicia Climate Action Plan document from the Institute for Local Government: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1sFDmNNEJK-9bX3r0vdH3NvzxPHHP9W8Z  (The ILG link is here.)

      Note in addition, Benicia has a 2016 Climate Change Adaptation Plan.  If I understand correctly, this is one strategy as a subset of our overall Climate Action Plan.

      Links on recent scientific findings:

      Links on California strategies and target dates:

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