Tag Archives: California Environmental Protection Agency

Benicia Herald: Rep. pens crude-by-rail safety bill

Repost from The Benicia Herald

Rep. pens crude-by-rail safety bill

■ Mike Thompson: Recent accidents show need for ‘robust’ action

By Donna Beth Weilenman, April 15, 2015 
MIKE THOMPSON. File photo
MIKE THOMPSON. File photo

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, the Napa Democrat who represents Benicia in the House, has introduced the Crude-by-Rail Safety Act he co-authored to establish comprehensive safety security standards for transporting crude oil by train.

The act, presented to the House on Wednesday, is a response to concerns that current safety standards don’t address hazards such transports pose, Thompson said.

Joining him in co-authoring the proposed legislation were Reps. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, Ron Kind, D-Wis. and Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

The Crude-By-Rail Safety Act would put in place safety measures Thompson said would assure that communities through which oil is transported by train are secure, that rail cars are as strong as possible and that first responders are prepared to handle emergencies.

While many opponents of crude by rail cite the July 6, 2013, Lac-Megantic rail disaster that killed 47 in the town in Quebec, Canada, Thompson said several more accidents involving trains hauling crude already have taken place this year in Canada and the United States.

A CSX train in West Virginia on its way to Yorktown, Va., was pulling CPC 1232 tanker cars, designed to be less vulnerable and stronger than the earlier-model D-111s [sic] that exploded in the Lac-Megantic crash. But the oil train derailed Feb. 16 near Mount Carbon, W.Va., and fire and leaking North Dakota oil could be seen a day later. Two towns had to be evacuated, one house was destroyed, at least one derailed car entered the Kanawha River and a nearby water treatment plant was closed.

A March 10 derailment three miles outside of Galena, Ill., involved 21 cars of a 105-car Burlington Northern-Santa Fe train hauling Bakken crude. Three days later, a 94-car Canadian National Railway crude oil train derailed three miles away from Gogama, Northern Ontario, and destroyed a bridge. That derailment was just 23 miles from the site of a Feb. 14 derailment involving a 100-car Canadian National Railways train traveling from Alberta.

Those accidents, Thompson said, “underscored the urgency of action to curb the risks of transporting volatile crude oil. The legislation introduced today will increase safety standards and accountability.”

He said the act would establish a maximum volatility standard for crude oil, propane, butane, methane and ethane that is transported by rail. It would forbid using DOT-111 tank cars and would remove 37,700 of those cars from the rail network.

He said the legislation would establish the strongest tank car standards to date.

Railroads would be required to disclose train movements through communities and to establish confidential close-call reporting systems. Another requirement would be the creation of emergency response plans, he said.

The legislation calls for comprehensive oil spill response planning and studies and would increase fines for violating volatility standards and hazardous materials transport standards.

This is not the first time Thompson has addressed rail safety.

In December 2014, he wrote legislation improving rail and refinery security and requiring an intelligence assessment of the security of domestic oil refineries and the railroads that serve them.

A quarter-century earlier, when he was a state senator, Thompson was alarmed by the July 14, 1991 Southern Pacific derailment and resulting toxic spill at Dunsmuir, a small resort town on the Upper Sacramento River.

The derailment sent 19,000 gallons of soil fumigant into the river, killing more than a million fish, millions of other types of animals and hundreds of thousands of trees.

The fumigant sent a 41-mile plume along the river to Shasta Lake, an incident that still ranks as one of California’s largest hazardous chemical spills, from which some species have never recovered.

The incident occurred in what was Thompson’s state senatorial district. In response he drafted a bill that became Chapter 766 of the California State Statutes of 1991.

His bill founded the Railroad Accident Prevention and Immediate Deployment (RAPID) Force, which cooperates with other agencies to respond to large-scale releases of toxic materials spilled during surface transportation accidents; ordered the California Environmental Protection Agency to develop a statewide program to address such emergencies; and for a time raised money to supply emergency responders with equipment they would need for spill cleanups.

“Public safety is priority number one when it comes to transporting highly volatile crude oil,” Thompson said Wednesday.

“Rail cars transporting crude run through the heart of our communities, and as recent accidents have demonstrated, robust, comprehensive action is needed.”

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    Benicia City Council to consider rail safety letter to Feds

    Repost from The Benicia Herald
    [Editor:  Original documents on the City of Benicia’s website:
          – Staff’s Agenda Report
          – Mayor Patterson’s draft letter of support
          – League of Cities letter requesting letters of support & sample letter]

    City Council to mull rail safety missive

    By Donna Beth Weilenman, April 2, 2015

    Mayor Patterson seeks endorsement of letter calling for action to update federal policy on crude oil transport; no conflict seen with pending Valero request

    Benicia, California

    Mayor Elizabeth Patterson will ask the City Council on Tuesday to endorse a letter supporting the League of California Cities’ call for increased crude-by-rail safety measures.

    Christopher McKenzie, the LCC’s executive director, already has sent a letter March 6 on behalf of its board of directors to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony R. Foxx, asking that his department make LCC’s recommendations part of federal policy in governing rail safety.

    “The continued increase in the transport of crude oil by rail, combined with recent rail rail accidents involving oil spills and resulting fires, have served to heighten concerns about rail safety among many of our member cities,” McKenzie wrote.

    Rail safety, particularly in transport of crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken fields, has become a growing concern nationwide and elsewhere.

    The California Environmental Protection Agency has been presenting a series of forums on the matter, one of which took place March 26 in Crockett, a meeting attended by several Benicia residents who oppose delivery of oil by train.

    In another development this week, WesPac Midstream has dropped the crude-by-rail component of its intent to transform a Pacific Gas and Electric tank farm into a regional oil storage site.

    In explaining the move Project Manager Art Diefenbach cited uncertainties about prospective changes in regulations of oil shipping by rail, a series of protests and falling crude prices that have made shipping by train less attractive. Should the project be completed, oil would arrive either by ship or pipeline, which Pittsburg Mayor Pete Longmire suggested would make the operation safer and less controversial.

    League-of-CA-Cities-LogoIn his letter, McKenzie cited incidents that prompted the LCC to express its own safety concerns and to offer recommendations that might reduce the potential for accidents.

    “Specifically, two derailments accompanied by fires involving unit trains (100 or more tank cars) carrying crude oil in West Virginia and in Ontario, Canada, earlier this month have greatly increased public anxiety about what steps the relevant federal regulatory agencies are taking to improve rail safety and on what timetable,” he wrote.

    He said the LCC wanted to make three points: First, that improvements that are required of participating industries should be mandates, not recommendations; second, that the mandates should have a hard deadline for implementation; and third, that the Department of Transportation should include the LCC’s recommendations in the final rule for Safe Transportation of Crude Oil and Flammable Materials.

    McKenzie wrote that the LCC wants all federal agencies involved in regulating crude-by-rail shipments to require electronically controlled braking systems on trains carrying the sweeter crude from the North Dakota Bakken oil fields, and to set a sooner date for phasing out or retrofitting the older DOT-111 tanks.

    More federal money should be directed toward training and equipment for first responders who are sent to hazardous materials accidents, he wrote, and how the funding is to be distributed needs to be defined. In addition, trains should have maximum speed limits in all areas.

    His letter said the LCC wants the number of tank cars that trigger a California Energy Commission and State Emergency Response Commission report lowered to 20 from 33, which in turn would lower the trigger point from shipments of 1.1 million gallons or more to those of 690,000 gallons or more.

    Priority routes for positive train control, a technology that incorporates geopositioning tracking to slow or halt trains automatically to reduce collisions, should be identified, McKenzie wrote, and parking and storage of tank cards need regulating, too.

    He further wrote that railroads should be forced to comply with their Individual Voluntary Agreements with the US-DOT, because currently there is no requirement for them to do so. Those pacts involve reducing speed limits for oil trains that use older tank cars and travel through urban areas; determining the safest rail route; increased track inspection; adding enhanced braking systems; improving emergency response plans and training; increasing track inspections; and working with cities and communities to address their concerns about oil transport by train.

    “The League of California Cities understands that this area of regulation is largely preempted by federal law,” McKenzie wrote. “That is why we are urging specific and timely action by the federal agencies charged with regulatory oversight in this area. We do not expect that derailments and accidents will cease altogether, but we anticipate that stricter safety standards will reduce their numbers over time.”

    The LCC also has supplied member cities with a sample letter patterned after McKenzie’s message, to customize before sending to Foxx.

    In a report to Benicia City Council, City Manager Brad Kilger wrote, “The League Executive Director has requested that cities send letters to the appropriate federal rail safety rulemaking authority requesting that these measures be implemented.”

    Since the preparation of the letter template, he wrote, the LCC has learned that any decisions on improved safety regulations would be made in the Office of Management and Budget.

    “The mayor is requesting that the city send a letter on behalf of the Benicia City Council,” Kilger wrote.

    Consideration of the letter won’t conflict with future consideration of a request by Valero Benicia Refinery to extend Union Pacific Railroad tracks onto its property and make other modifications so it can substitute rail delivery for tanker ship delivery of crude oil, a highly contentious proposition that is currently undergoing environmental review.

    “In that the city is currently processing the use permit and EIR (environmental Impact Report) for the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project, I asked the city attorney to determine whether sending a letter requesting rail safety improvements would in any way create a due process issue for the city,” Kilger wrote.

    He said City Attorney Heather McLaughlin informed him there would be no conflict because the letter doesn’t take any position on the Valero project or the adequacy of the ongoing environmental review.

    “The letter simply urges the adoption of more stringent federal standards for the transportation of crude by rail,” Kilger wrote.

    If the Council agrees the letter should be sent to Foxx, it would be signed by Patterson as mayor, and copies would be sent to California’s two U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, all members of California’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Federal Railroad Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Solano County Board of Supervisors, the Solano Transportation Authority, Kilger, McLaughlin and members of the Council.

    The Council will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Council Chamber of City Hall, 250 East L St.

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      Law professor: 9 ways that STATES can help regulate railroad safety and transportation

      Repost from LegalPlanet.org
      [Editor:  Federal preemption under the Commerce Clause is NOT the last and only word on regulating crude oil trains.  Here are some suggestions for State regulation by Professor Jayni Foley Hein, executive director of UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment.  – RS]

      Oil By Rail: Nine Things California Can Do to Increase Safety

      While FRA Considers New Federal Regulations, States Can Ramp Up Prevention and Emergency Response
      By Jayni Hein, June 24, 2014

      At a joint Senate and Assembly hearing last week on oil by rail safety in California, some lawmakers expressed frustration at slow federal action, and asked what California can do to increase public safety. My testimony focused on federal preemption issues, defining areas where the state can regulate, and those where it is preempted by the Commerce Clause, Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), or ICC Termination Act, or all three.

      While the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) have primary authority over railroad safety and transportation, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) shares authority with the federal government to enforce federal rail safety requirements and conduct inspections. And even with strong federal preemption provisions, there are actions that California and other states can take right now to increase public safety in light of the enormous growth of oil by rail.

      Here are nine things the state can do:

      1. Prioritize track and rail car inspection.

      California has more than 5,000 miles of mainline railroad track. Inspection of track and rail cars is vital, as derailments are the most common type of train accident in the United States. A national analysis of freight train derailments from 2001 to 2010 on the Class I freight railroads’ mainline track found that broken track rails or track welds were the leading cause of derailments. Broken rail car wheels and track obstructions are also common causes of derailments. (Liu, et. al. 2012).

      Governor Brown’s new budget includes funding to hire seven additional rail safety inspectors for the CPUC, paid for by rail industry assessments. The state should ensure that it has enough CPUC inspectors to accommodate the projected rise in oil by rail traffic each year. If seven new inspectors are needed right now; we will likely need many more by 2016, when oil by rail shipments are projected to increase as much as 25-fold, to 150 million barrels per year.

      2. Obtain robust data on rail routing, rail car contents, and accident causes.

      California agencies need more information from FRA and the railroads on routes, frequency, and rail car contents, as well as data on train derailments, their causes, and risk factors specific to crude by rail transit. The state should obtain this data from FRA – a recommendation echoed in the June 10, 2014 California Inter-Agency Working Group Report. The CPUC needs both national data and California-specific data in order to do its job.

      3. Conduct an analysis of the risks that crude by rail poses to the state, including identification of high-risk areas of track, and propose specific measures to increase safety.

      The legislature should consider requiring an annual report from the CPUC on the specific risks that crude by rail poses to the state, and measures that it can take to increase safety. Voluntary agreements with the railroads may also be an important outgrowth of this state-specific analysis that can inform where and how to direct limited state resources. As previewed above, this state analysis should be guided by the most recent data available from FRA and the railroads.

      The legislature could also consider requiring information sharing among the relevant state agencies, including CPUC, Office of Emergency Services (OES), Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), California Environmental Protection Agency, and more.

      4. Require state oil spill contingency plans for trains transporting oil into the state.

      SB 1319 (Pavley) would require state oil spill contingency plans for trains transporting oil into the state. Such a state-mandated plan would provide an opportunity to secure better emergency response protection for the environment and public safety.

      5. Get access to daily information on oil shipments into California, and ensure that state and local emergency personnel can access this information immediately in the event of an accident.

      A recent DOT Emergency Order requires that each railroad operating trains containing more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil, or approximately 35 tank cars, to provide states with weekly notice that includes estimated volumes of Bakken oil  transported per week and routing information.

      The state should also have immediate access to real-time shipment information, assuming the technology exists to enable this. The state should also ensure that local emergency response personnel are well trained to deal with any crude by rail accident, and can readily identify the contents of any shipment. Training and information sharing with local emergency response personnel can be paid for by the industry, using a fee or assessment like the 6.5 cent/barrel fee on all oil imports recently approved by the state.

      6. Advocate for more stringent federal safety regulations.

      Legislative pronouncements, as well as the CPUC’s robust participation in the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) are needed to secure better federal standards.

      California joins others states such as New York in advocating for more stringent rail car design standards (phasing out DOT-111 cars, for example), mandatory placards on rail cars identifying Bakken crude oil,  expediting Positive Train Control, and requiring electronically-controlled pneumatic brakes on all crude oil trains. The state can also advocate for further federal analysis of possible routing changes, to avoid sensitive population and habitat areas.

      7. Monitor compliance with new voluntary measures that the railroads agreed to implement this year.

      As part of a February 2014 agreement with DOT, the Class I railroads will perform one additional internal-rail inspection each year than required by the FRA on routes over which trains carry 20 or more tank cars of crude oil, and will conduct at least two track geometry inspections over these routes. The  railroads also agreed to use end-of-train braking systems on all oil trains, and lower train speed in federally-designated “high-threat-urban-areas.”

      The CPUC should monitor the railroads’ compliance with these voluntary measures. At the same time, CPUC and the state should advocate for making these voluntary measures mandatory, by issuing new or revised FRA regulations.

      8. Consider issuing guidance to local permitting agencies on requirements for offloading facilities and oil refinery expansion.

      There are currently at least five crude-by-rail refinery projects being pursued in California: one in Pittsburg, one in Benicia, two in Bakersfield, and one in Wilmington. There is a patchwork of local permitting agencies responsible for land use, air, water, and other local safety and environmental issues that may be relevant to offloading sites and refineries.

      Local government and permitting agencies can deny land use and other permits for refineries and offloading facilities if they find safety risks or improper environmental mitigation under statutes like the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). But, local agency personnel may have varying levels of expertise in oil and rail issues and may apply permitting criteria inconsistently. As such, the state, through the Office or Planning and Research (OPR), should consider issuing guidance to local permitting agencies on necessary permits and requirements for offloading facility or refinery expansion.

      9. Provide guidance on CEQA review and the public comment and participation process, especially relevant to environmental justice communities that may be located near offloading sites or refineries.

      While rail accidents can happen anywhere, communities near offloading sites and refineries are especially vulnerable to oil by rail transport risks. The state can provide information and guidance to these communities on opportunities for engagement, comment and participation.

      In addition, the state can encourage railroads, industry and refineries to work directly with potentially affected communities to disclose as much information as possible about shipments, safety measures, and how community members can participate in the process to make their communities safer.

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