Tag Archives: Legal action

Second train worker sues BNSF over Casselton oil train explosion

Repost from INFORUM, Fargo ND

Second train worker sues BNSF over Casselton oil train explosion

By Emily Welker on Nov 19, 2015 at 5:30 a.m.
Smoke rises from scene of a derailed train near Casselton, North Dakota December 30, 2013. Michael Vosburg / The Forum

FARGO – A train conductor in the massive oil tanker train derailment and explosion in Casselton about two years ago is suing BNSF Railway, claiming its negligent safety practices left him injured in the wreck.

It’s the second lawsuit filed in Cass County District Court by a railroad worker in connection with the derailment and explosion, which prompted evacuations in Casselton as thick smoke billowed from oil tanker fires that burned for more than a day. An eastbound 106-car BNSF train hauling oil struck a derailed westbound train hauling soybeans on Dec. 30, 2013, about a half-mile outside of Casselton.

The latest lawsuit, filed Tuesday by Burleigh County train conductor Peter Riepl, says that Riepl was working as conductor on the train, which was loaded with crude oil from the Oil Patch in western North Dakota. The oil train’s lead locomotive hit a railcar from the derailed soybean train, forcing the oil train to derail, the lawsuit says. It says as the oil tankers on Riepl’s train began to catch fire and explode, he leapt from the train to escape and was injured.

The lawsuit claims BNSF was negligent in its safety practices, including in its failure to follow federal and state laws and regulations, and in failing to adopt safe methods to transport hazardous materials.

It also claims that Riepl injured his back two years before that while working on a BNSF train near Stanton, N.D., when he hit his foot on an unsafe section of flooring and fell, also due to the railroad’s negligence.

The suit doesn’t ask for a specific dollar amount, but says Riepl suffered severe and permanent damages and wants the railroad to pay for those losses and damages, including his medical care.

Attorneys on both sides couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday, and no response to Riepl’s lawsuit had yet been filed in court.

BNSF spokesperson Amy McBeth said in an email, “BNSF values Mr. Peter Riepl as an employee, and we are reluctant to say anything about him or his lawsuit outside of the context of his case.”

In their legal response to a similar lawsuit filed in earlier this year in connection with the Casselton derailment, BNSF officials denied any negligence.

That suit, filed by Fargo train engineer Bryan Thompson, also claimed BNSF failed to warn its train workers about the dangers of oil tanker trains and didn’t take appropriate safety precautions.

Thompson claims he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the crash, and he was forced to leave his career as a train engineer.

BNSF officials said in their response that Thompson’s suit might be barred by the terms of the federal Railroad Safety Act. The lawsuit is still pending. A trial is set for August 2017.

The Casselton derailment received nationwide coverage, coming just a few months after a train carrying North Dakota crude rolled down a hill and exploded, killing 47 people in Quebec. The crashes contributed to an ongoing national discussion about the risk of hauling crude oil overland from North Dakota’s Oil Patch.

The National Transportation Safety Board hasn’t released the final results of its investigation of the crash.

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    Maryland judge orders railroads to release oil train reports

    Repost from McClatchyDC

    Maryland judge orders release of oil train reports

    HIGHLIGHTS
    • Case marks first time railroads have lost on the issue in court
    • Judge not persuaded that release would harm security, business
    • Companies that filed 2014 lawsuit have until Sept. 4 to appeal

    By Curtis Tate, August 17, 2015
    Tank cars loaded with crude oil head east at Hurricane, W. Va., in May 2014. A Maryland judge has ordered the release of oil train reports to McClatchy and other news organizations. West Virginia and a handful of other states agreed to keep the the reports confidential.
    Tank cars loaded with crude oil head east at Hurricane, W. Va., in May 2014. A Maryland judge has ordered the release of oil train reports to McClatchy and other news organizations. West Virginia and a handful of other states agreed to keep the reports confidential. Curtis Tate – McClatchy

    WASHINGTON – A Maryland judge rejected two rail carriers’ arguments that oil train reports should be withheld from the public, ordering them released to McClatchy and other news organizations that sought them.

    The ruling isn’t the first time railroads have lost their bid to keep the oil train reports secret, but it is the first court decision recognizing the public’s right to see them.

    The U.S. Department of Transportation began requiring in May 2014 that railroads inform states of large shipments of crude oil after a series of derailments with spills, fires, explosions and evacuations. Since February, six more major oil train derailments have occurred in North America.

    Nonetheless, some railroads have continued to press their case that the reports should be exempt from disclosure under state open records laws. Most states shared the documents anyway, and Pennsylvania and Texas did so after McClatchy appealed. Maryland is the only state that was taken to court after it said it would release the reports.

    Norfolk Southern and CSX sued the Maryland Department of the Environment in July 2014 to stop the state agency from releasing the records to McClatchy and the Associated Press. They have until Sept. 4 to appeal the decision, issued Friday by Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

    Both companies, which transport crude oil to East Coast refineries concentrated in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, said they would review the decision.

    Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, said the company would “respond at the appropriate time and venue.”

    Melanie Cost, a spokeswoman for CSX, said the railroad “remains committed to safely moving these and all other shipments on its network.”

    The ruling isn’t the first time railroads have lost their bid to keep the oil train reports secret, but it is the first court decision recognizing the public’s right to access them.

    In his 20-page opinion, Fletcher-Hill was not persuaded by arguments that releasing the oil train reports would harm the railroads’ security and business interests. He also dismissed the relevance of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s May final rule addressing the safety of oil trains. The companies had argued that the final rule supported their claims.

    He also ordered the companies to pay any open court costs.

    In a statement, Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles said the agency was pleased with the ruling and that it is “committed to transparency in government.”

    Rail transportation of Bakken crude oil, produced through hydraulic fracturing of shale formations in North Dakota, has grown exponentially in the past five years. However, a series of fiery derailments, including one in Quebec in 2013 that killed 47 people, have raised numerous concerns about public safety, environmental protection and emergency planning and response.

    U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx issued an emergency order on May 7, 2014, that required any railroad shipping 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil through a state to inform that state’s emergency response commission what routes the trains would take and which counties they would cross, as well as provide a reasonable estimate of how many trains to expect in a week.

    Beginning in June 2014, McClatchy submitted open records requests in 30 states for the oil train reports, including Maryland.

    McClatchy was able to glean some of the details in the Maryland report through a Freedom of Information Act request to Amtrak, which owns part of Norfolk Southern’s oil train route in the state. The subsequent release of oil train reports in Pennsylvania revealed more about such operations in Maryland.

    On Monday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf released an 84-page assessment of oil train safety in the state, which examined derailment risk, tank car failures and regulatory oversight. Some Maryland lawmakers have called for the state to perform a similar assessment.

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      Pittsburg CA: Suit claims EPA failed to investigate

      Repost from the Contra Costa Times

      Pittsburg: Suit claims EPA failed to investigate complaints of environmental discrimination

      By Bay City News Service, 07/21/2015 09:43:40 AM PDT

      PITTSBURG – A consortium of environmental groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to investigate complaints of discrimination in the placement of power plants or hazardous waste dumps in various locations across the country, including two power plants in Pittsburg.

      The EPA has 180 days to respond to the complaints, but according to the suit, which was filed on July 15, the federal regulator has not responded to the complaints in 10 to 20 years in some cases.

      The suit includes allegations about facilities in Michigan, Texas, New Mexico, Alabama and California.

      In Pittsburg, the suit alleges that the local regulatory agencies — the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the California Air Resources Board, and the California Energy Commission — discriminated against residents by locating two power plants in an already environmentally over-burdened area, according to Marianne Engelman Lado, a lawyer with Earthjustice, which is representing the plaintiffs.

      “This is in a community where people have high rates of asthma or cancer and they were concerned that these plants would add to that,” Engelman Lado said.

      Californians for Renewable Energy, or CARE, filed a complaint with the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights in April 2000 charging the local agencies discriminated against the predominantly nonwhite and low-income residents by failing to consider the additional environmental burden of the two new plants, the complaint alleges.

      Permitting for the plants, the Los Medanos Energy Center LLC and Delta Energy Center, continued and the plants were approved and went online in 2001 and 2002, respectively, according to the complaint. The EPA accepted the complaint in December 2001 but has yet to conduct an investigation into the allegations, despite attempts in 2006 and 2009 by CARE to prompt the federal agency to respond, the complaint alleges.

      In June 2002, the EPA classified Los Medanos Energy Center as being in “significant violation” of the Clean Air Act and over the last five years the facility has had to pay over $3,000 in fines for violating the act, according to the complaint.

      In the meantime, residents have been suffering the consequences, Engelman Lado said.

      “The plants are still standing and they’re polluting,” she said. “They’re emitting toxins and the community is living with that everyday.”

      Engelman Lado said it’s clear the EPA has violated the law, and she’s hoping the lawsuit will result in the EPA completing their investigation.

      Engelman Lado added she’s confident that when the EPA does complete the investigation, it will make findings of discrimination.

      “We would hope, whether through a court order or by sitting down at the table, we could bring resources to bear to say, ‘What can we do to help these communities who are suffering from a lack of infrastructure or resources,'” she said.

      That could take the form of more monitoring, infrastructure to mitigate some of the negative impacts of the power plants, or more extensive buffers between the community and the plants.

      A representative from the EPA did not return a request for comment.

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        Judge: Train Companies Must Prepare for Oil Spills

        Repost from Public News Service
        [Editor:  See the Earthjustice News Release for more details.  Earthjustice represented San Francisco Baykeeper, Communities for a Better Environment, the Sierra Club, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Association of Irritated Residents and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network in the lawsuit.  – RS]

        Judge: Train Companies Must Prepare for Oil Spills

        By Suzanne Potter, June 26, 2015
        PHOTO: Companies running oil trains in California will be required to have a spill-response plan. Photo credit: vladyslav-danilin/shutterstock
        PHOTO: Companies running oil trains in California will be required to have a spill-response plan. Photo credit: vladyslav-danilin/shutterstock

        Railroad companies soon won’t be able to carry oil in California unless they have a safety plan – and put aside lots of money to cover any future spills. That’s because a federal judge in San Francisco dismissed an industry lawsuit last week against California’s new railroad safety law.

        Patti Goldman, managing attorney for Earthjustice, said the precautions required are common sense.

        “All other industries, like the tankers that carry the oil, the refiners, the pipelines, all of them prepare these oil-spill response plans,” she aaid. “It’s time for the railroads to do the same.”

        Railroad companies had argued that federal law pre-empts states’ regulation of the railroads.

        Goldman said the companies now will have more incentive to get the training, equipment and communications systems in place to prevent the worst-case scenario.

        “They improve their practices. They can’t get financial assurances if they’re being really risky,” she said. “And they figure out how to handle the oil better so that they won’t have a spill.”

        California’s railroad safety law will go into effect once regulations are finalized.

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