Tag Archives: Cleanup funding

Senator: Using bad tank cars? Then pay a fee

Repost from The Columbus Dispatch

Using bad tank cars? Then pay a fee, Brown proposes

By Rick Rouan, June 30, 2015 11:36 PM

Sen. Sherrod Brown wants shippers using tank cars that have been linked to fiery train derailments to pay fees that would be used to reroute train tracks, train first responders and clean up spills.

Brown has proposed fees that start at $175 per car for those using the DOT-11 [sic], a tank car that federal regulators have warned hazardous-material shippers against using.

The fees would pay to clean up hazardous-material spills, to move tracks that handle large volumes of hazardous material and to hire more railroad inspectors. Brown’s bill earmarks about $45 million over three years to train first responders near rail lines that carry large quantities of hazardous material.

Earlier this year, federal regulators tightened rules on newly manufactured tank cars but did not require shippers to immediately remove the old cars.

“(The rule) probably didn’t go far enough,” Brown said on Tuesday at the site of a 2012 derailment and explosion near the state fairgrounds. “If it’s a threat to public safety, they probably need to be off the rails.”

The federal rule will phase out or require retrofitting of thousands of the oldest tank cars that carry crude oil by 2018. Another wave of the oil-carrying tankers would have to change by 2020.

Some of the tank cars that aren’t carrying crude oil would not be replaced or retrofitted until 2025.

Brown’s proposal calls for a tax credit for companies that upgrade their tank cars to the new federal standard in the next three years.

Chet Thompson, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers trade association, said his organization would oppose the fee structure Brown proposed.

“We think the federal focus should be on the rail carriers and their efforts to improve track integrity,” he said. “We want to see legislation that beefs up track integrity to keep the trains on the track.”

A spokesman for the American Association of Railroads declined to comment on Brown’s proposal. The organization is appealing the new federal standard, arguing that it doesn’t do enough to require shippers to stop using the DOT-111 tank cars and should require more heat protection on the cars, spokesman Ed Greenberg said.

The cars have been involved in several fiery derailments while carrying crude oil from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota to East Coast refineries. In July 2013, a runaway train killed 47 people and destroyed the business district in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

And in February, a train carrying volatile Bakken crude derailed in Mount Carbon, W.Va., after it likely traveled through Columbus. The train was run by CSX, which has three tracks that carry crude oil converging in Columbus before they head toward West Virginia.

On July 11, 2012, a Norfolk Southern train slipped the rails just north of Downtown. One of the cars punctured, spilling ethanol and causing an explosion and fire. Two people were injured and about 100 people were evacuated.

The National Transportation Safety Board said a broken track caused the derailment.

“Unfortunately, that was not an isolated incident,” Brown said.

A recent analysis for Franklin County Emergency Management and Homeland Security found that crude oil represents the largest share of hazardous material transported by rail through the region, Director Mike Pannell said.

Earlier this year, the state released reports showing that 45 million to 137 million gallons of Bakken crude travel through the state each week.

Local first responders have procedures in place to handle derailments but not specific plans for every piece of track, including lines that run through residential areas, said Karry Ellis, an assistant chief in the Columbus Fire Division.

Brown’s proposal calls for the U.S. Department of Transportation to study whether first responders are prepared for flammable-liquid spills and whether longer freight trains pose a greater risk.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this story.

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

    Repost from The Times Union, State College, PA
    [Editor: Note that this is a new filing, closely following the filing of May 14 by a coalition of environmental groups.  – RS]

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

    By Brian Nearing, May 18, 2015

    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.

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      “Bomb” Trains: Hope is not enough

      Repost from the Pottstown Mercury

      LETTERS: Safety of ‘bomb trains’ is public health priority

      By Dr. Lewis Cuthbert, 04/25/15, 2:00 AM EDT

      The Mercury article of Feb. 23, “We just have to hope that nothing happens” has profound implications to everyone in the Greater Philadelphia Region. We applaud the March 1 Mercury editorial conclusion, “Clearly, hope is not enough to maintain safety…”

      So-called “bomb trains” containing up to 3 million gallons of explosive, flammable, hazardous crude oil travel right through Pottstown and the Limerick Nuclear Plant Site. A derailment, explosion and days-long fire ball near Limerick’s reactors and deadly fuel pools could trigger simultaneous meltdowns with catastrophic radioactive releases. Millions of Greater Philadelphia Region residents could lose everything forever.

      Days of thick black smoke from a crude oil fire could be devastating. Even Occidental Chemical’s large vinyl chloride accidents (seven-tenths of a mile from Limerick) caused problems at Limerick, according to employees, some of whom are very worried about crude oil train derailments.

      Risks are increasing. Emergency responders are smart to be concerned. They shouldn’t be expected to be on the front lines of such devastating uncontrollable disasters.

      Train derailment disasters should be anticipated. Sixty-five tank cars bound for Philadelphia had loose, leaking, or missing safety components to prevent flammable, hazardous contents from escaping (Hazmat report – last two years). A fuel-oil train already derailed a few miles from Philadelphia.

      Heat from the rupture and ignition of one 30,000-gallon car can set off a chain reaction, causing other cars to explode, releasing a days-long fireball. Basically, responders must let it burn out.

      Over 100 railcars, estimated to hold three million gallons, regularly sit on tracks from the Dollar General in Stowe to Montgomery County Community College.

      ProPublica data from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (2011-2014) shows incidents in over 250 municipalities. The worst of eight major crude oil train accidents include:

      • A train derailment and explosion killed 47 and destroyed 30 buildings in Quebec.
      • 2,300 residents were evacuated in North Dakota. The fireball was observed states away.

      Safer trains aren’t the answer. A new safer-design derailed February 2015 in West Virginia, despite adhering to the speed limit. Hundreds of families had to flee their homes in frigid weather. Burning continued for days. Drinking water and electricity were lost. Leaking crude oil poisoned the water supply. Fireballs erupted from crumbled tank cars, underscoring volatility of crude oil’s propane, butane, etc.

      Safe evacuation from our densely populated region is an illusion. Limerick Nuclear Plant’s evacuation plan is unworkable and unrealistic, not robust as claimed by a health official. Just consider work hour traffic combined with deteriorated roads and bridges. We encourage officials to visit www.acereport.org to view ACE’s 2012 video-blog series on the reality of Limerick’s evacuation plan. For a graphic presentation call (610) 326-2387.

      Who pays to deal with irreversible devastation from train derailments and meltdowns? Clearly, not the oil industry, nuclear industry, railroad or government. We’d be on our own, despite:

      1. Long-term ecological damage that would leave ghost towns that can’t be cleaned up safely.
      2. Risking the vital drinking water resource for almost two million people (Pottstown to Philadelphia).
      3. Millions of people losing their homes, businesses and health.

      Richard Lengel, Pottstown’s Fire Chief, admitted, “If something catastrophic happens, there’s no municipality along the railroad that can handle it, the volume [crude oil] is too great. We just have to hope that nothing happens, honestly.”

      Hope is no solution! Neither is denying the reality of our unacceptable devastating risks.

      The catastrophic disasters we face can, and must, be prevented with foresight and political will to face the facts and take action. Enough of corporate profits jeopardizing public safety.

      Wake up! Speak up! Tell local, state and federal elected officials to stop this insanity!

      Say no to dangerous crude oil trains traveling through our communities and the Limerick site.

      Say no to continued Limerick Nuclear Plant operations to avoid meltdowns that can be triggered by cyber/terrorist attacks, embrittled/cracking reactors, earthquakes and now oil-train explosions/fires.

      — Dr. Lewis Cuthbert
      ACE President

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        Green Groups press New York state for $100 million Oil Spill Fund

        Repost from the Press-Republican, Plattsburgh NY

        Green Groups press for $100 million state Oil Spill Fund

        Claim $40M proposed in state budget won’t cover cost of derailments

        By Kim Smith Dedam, March 23, 2015

        ELIZABETHTOWN — Environmental groups are pushing state lawmakers to bulk up the state’s Oil Spill Fund.

        They see a need for $100 million set aside, not $40 million as is currently proposed in the executive and legislative budgets.

        And they have asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators to leave the money within the purview of the State Comptroller’s Office and not move the fund to State Department of Environmental Conservation coffers.

        “This is a backup fund, mainly because in other cases, where a spill has led to significant cleanup costs, some companies go out of business, including the company whose accident resulted in the explosion at Lac-Megantic in Quebec,” Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said in an interview this week.

        “At that point, there is little the state can do to get the money from the company other than to go to court.”

        ‘DOESN’T TAKE MUCH’

        Total liabilities for the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, rail disaster in July 2013 could easily reach $2.7 billion over the next decade, the coalition said in a news release.

        The Adirondack Council joined forces with Environmental Advocates, the Sierra Club and Riverkeeper to press the Oil Spill Fund issue.

        “Typically, the requirement for (accident) insurance has not been high enough to cover the cost of an accident that could take place as the result of an explosion,” Sheehan told the Press-Republican.

        “And it doesn’t take much oil to contaminate thousands of gallons of water, especially when we’re talking about a drinking water supply for 188,000 people, which Lake Champlain is.”

        The Canadian Pacific Railroad line runs the entire length of Lake Champlain’s western shore, and oil train trips have increased in recent months.

        Many places where oil cars have spilled and exploded sustained permanent environmental damage, Sheehan said.

        $60 MILLION MORE

        The coalition is not trying to force funding contributions from oil transport companies or the railroads to bolster state Oil Spill Funds.

        They do believe lawmakers in Albany are on the right track in looking to increase funding for next year.

        “However, the $15 million increase to $40 million proposed by (Cuomo) and Assembly budgets could and should be increased.

        “In today’s dollars, the $25 million fund created in 1977 would be a $96.4 million fund today,” the coalition said in a news release.

        “Thus, we urge that the fund cap be increased to $100 million to bring it back to parity with the monetary protection it afforded nearly four decades ago.”

        They also charge that the Oil Spill Fund should be indexed to keep pace with inflation.

        10 WRECKS YEARLY

        “Federal regulators have told us to expect at least 10 major derailments of crude oil trains a year. There have already been four in the last three weeks,” Kate Hudson, Riverkeeper’s Special Projects director, said in a news release.

        “It’s no longer a matter of if, but when, a catastrophe will happen in a New York community. If we are without a robust spill fund, New York citizens could be left to shoulder the cost of the cleanup and damages, just as the citizens of Canada were a year and a half ago.”

        SEPARATE ACCOUNTS

        Environmental advocates also asked Albany to fund emergency response separately from oil spill response and environmental cleanup.

        “We welcome proposed funding for emergency response equipment, supplies and training for state and local emergency services personnel,” the coalition said in a news release.

        “We strongly support the Assembly’s proposed legislation, which would keep that funding separate from the account that pays for remediation costs, as well as the damages associated with loss of life and property damage and economic losses suffered by individuals and businesses in the event of a spill.”

        If response and spill monies are kept in a joint account, they contend, emergency cleanup costs could deplete the response fund, leaving the state without resources to remediate a spill.

        ‘TREMENDOUS RISK’

        Roger Downs, conservation director for the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter, said New Yorkers assume “tremendous risk and little economic benefit” from the millions of gallons of explosive crude oil that “rumble through our cities and along our precious waterways every day.”

        Inaction on the part of the federal government to adequately address the risks or improve oil-tank-car safety should not prevent state lawmakers from building the most robust spill fund possible, he said.

        The joint call for heightened oil-spill resources came within a day of the release of reports from state inspections done at railroad yards in Albany and Buffalo.

        State inspectors found 93 defects in tracks and crude oil cars, including seven critical safety defects that had to be fixed before cars could continue operation.

        Inspections were done on tankers at a CSX rail yard in Buffalo and at the Canadian Pacific yard in Albany.

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