Tag Archives: Lynchburg VA

Bridge wake-up call

Repost from Philipstown.info, Philipstown, NY
[Editor: This story out of New York is a wake-up call for us all.  Bridge safety in Northern California is a serious issue, and  we have heard little discussion on the subject as Valero  proposes to bring oil trains over the Sierra, through the Sacramento River Valley and  across the protected Yolo  Basin and Suisun Marsh.  Another refinery proposes to send these trains over the 85-year old Benicia Bridge, then alongside our beautiful Carquinez Strait and down through the heavily populated communities on the east shore of the San Francisco Bay.  – RS]

CSX Says Bridge Safe

Crude oil trains make daily crossings

By Michael Turton, August 1, 2014

A railway bridge located on the Hudson River across from Cold Spring has visibly deteriorated however its owner says it remains fit for daily use by freight trains. The bridge is located at milepost 51 on the River Line, a 132-mile stretch of track that runs from northern New Jersey to Selkirk, New York, just south of Albany. The bridge and the tracks are owned by the Florida-based CSX Corporation. At the bridge, the tracks are located just a few feet from the riverbank.

Concrete has crumbled beneath one of the bridge's vertical supports.

The span in question, along with a second bridge a few hundred yards to the south, crosses over a pair of narrow channels that enable waters from a wetland located west of the tracks to flow in and out freely as river levels change due to tides, wind and rain. Concrete that forms a part of the bridge’s structure has crumbled beneath a vertical support directly under the tracks.

In an email to The Paper, CSX Spokesperson Kristin Seay, said that the bridge is “current” with regard to its annual inspection. “It was last inspected on Feb. 6, 2014, and was determined to be safe for railroad operations.” Seay said that all CSX bridges are inspected annually.

The bridge to the south also shows signs of deterioration but to a lesser extent. On that structure, concrete has fallen away, exposing the reinforcing metal bar.

Oil transport by rail on the rise

The condition of tracks and bridges along the Hudson River has become more significant locally as part of a national trend which has seen an exponential increase in the transport of crude oil and other hazardous materials by rail in recent years. On July 23, 2014, USA Today reported that “The number of oil-carrying cars run by seven major U.S. railroads jumped from 9,500 in 2008 to 407,761 in 2013…” Closer to home, Seay told The Paper that “CSX operates an average of two to three loaded crude oil trains per day over (the River Line) route…” That adds up to between 700 and 1,000 crude-oil trains that pass directly across from Philipstown each year.

An average of two or three trains carrying crude oil cross over the bridge daily.

Two high profile, rail-related tragedies that occurred in recent months no doubt add to local concern. Last July, in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, a train loaded with oil exploded, killing 47 people. Local insurance claims were estimated at $50 million. And in May of this year, a train derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia, dumping some 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the James River.

A July 23 editorial in the Albany Times Union underscored what it called “failure of government to adequately ensure rail safety” as evidenced by such accidents.

Federally regulated

Freight rail lines in the U.S. are regulated almost entirely at the federal level by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Federal law requires that all railroad companies inspect their own bridges on an annual basis — regardless of the size of the bridge. Companies must determine the load capacity of each bridge, certifying to the state where it is located that it is capable of bearing the daily load it must handle.

On July 23, the Federal Department of Transportation proposed comprehensive rules to improve crude oil transportation safety. Recommendations include an immediate phasing out of older tank cars, new standards for tanker cars that carry highly hazardous materials, reduced operating speeds, and required notification of first responders.

At the state level, the New York State Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Rail Safety Inspection Section participates in FRA safety programs — mainly for staff training and certification. Beau Duffy, DOT Director of Communications, told The Paper that the agency also conducts random inspections or “blitzes” of rail facilities, focusing on track conditions and mechanical equipment such as brakes and wheels. He said that DOT does not however inspect bridges.

National issue … local focus

The deteriorating bridge across from Cold Spring brings what has become a significant national issue into very local focus.

Commenting on the CSX bridge, a Federal Railroad Administration official told The Paper that the FRA would work with CSX to ensure it is in compliance with all federal safety standards noting that FRA inspectors regularly evaluate railroad companies’ bridge safety practices to identify potential weaknesses.

Local senior-elected officials also commented on the River Line bridge. “Like many of my neighbors, I’m extremely concerned about the integrity of this bridge,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-18th District, NY), when notified of the issue by The Paper. “I immediately brought this to the … attention of CSX, and I’ll work closely with officials to ensure inspections are conducted and any necessary repairs are done promptly. With billions of gallons of oil barreling down the Hudson, we must be vigilant that issues like this are addressed quickly — the safety of our neighbors, environment and communities is far too important.”

Maloney is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and has been working with the chairman of that committee to examine the environmental and economic impact of shipments of crude oil along the Hudson River.

New York State Sen. Terry Gipson (D-Dutchess, Putnam) also commented. “The impact of an oil train incident along the shore of the Hudson River would be devastating to our communities who rely on the river for their drinking water and our local economy,” Gipson said via email. “That is why I … have expressed strong concerns to our federal government about the need for safety improvements relating to the interstate transportation of crude oil along the Hudson River. This effort includes ensuring necessary track maintenance and infrastructure investments that will allow businesses to operate more effectively and safely.”

Photos by M. Turton

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CSX’s oil shipping information made public in Virginia

Repost from The Roanoke Times

[Editor: Significant quote: “In addition to describing oil train movements, the CSX notice to Virginia officials named contacts within the Jacksonville, Fla., company who oversee hazardous materials shipments; published a number for its emergency call center; and furnished nine pages of general and technical information about crude oil’s makeup, chemical properties, handling, dangers and mitigation measures in the event of a spill…. A red placard bearing the number 1267 is plastered on the side of every oil tanker car for easy identification.”  – RS]

CSX’s oil shipping information publicized by government

The disclosure of routes and frequency of oil trains through Virginia was first mandated by the Department of Trasnsportation
By Jeff Sturgeon | The Roanoke Times  |  June 20, 2014 

Between two and five CSX tanker trains loaded with 1 million gallons or more of flammable crude oil cross Virginia’s midsection weekly, taking a west-to-east route to a Yorktown refinery, state records show.

No railroad has previously revealed its oil shipping volumes and routes in the state. But the U.S. Department of Transportation last month told the nation’s railroads that ship flammable Bakken crude oil to notify states of oil-filled trains moving within their borders as a safety precaution, effective this month.

The first notice, received by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management about June 4, was made public Friday in response to a public records request.

The information is supposed to empower local emergency responders to better respond to a future train crash like the derailment that caught fire in Lynchburg almost eight weeks ago.

In disclosing its oil-hauling practices, CSX mapped the route along which it carries oil. The trains, which contain domestically pumped crude oil, appear to enter the state from West Virginia in Alleghany County, pass through or near Covington, and roll east to the Yorktown area, the site of an oil distribution terminal.

The trains traverse 20 counties.

Virginia officials are passing the information to local emergency responders in counties where oil trains pass. Quarterly updates will be shared as well, VDEM said.

The state’s emergency response agency plans to ask CSX to help develop a procedure by which a community holding a special event could ask CSX to modify its train schedules and not ship crude through that community during the event.

A high number of Bakken crude-filled trains in North America have crashed in recent years, leading to enactment of enhanced safety measures. The federal transportation agency issued an emergency order May 7 that directed the nation’s railroads to notify states about all oil trains carrying 1 million gallons or more of crude oil.

A train carrying 1 million gallons of oil would typically be comprised of about 35 tanker cars.

Norfolk Southern Corp. has notified the state it does operate such trains in Virginia.

Just a week before the new rule, a CSX oil train derailed, released oil and caught fire on the bank of the James River in Lynchburg. That train, which came from Chicago, was carrying 3 million gallons of crude oil on its way to Yorktown, VDEM said.

CSX continues to use the route through Lynchburg.

CSX officials asked Virginia officials to not make public the notification. But VDEM released it, saying the same information was available from other public sources.

In addition to describing oil train movements, the CSX notice to Virginia officials named contacts within the Jacksonville, Fla., company who oversee hazardous materials shipments; published a number for its emergency call center; and furnished nine pages of general and technical information about crude oil’s makeup, chemical properties, handling, dangers and mitigation measures in the event of a spill.

A red placard bearing the number 1267 is plastered on the side of every oil tanker car for easy identification.

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White House agency under pressure from big oil & rail – accused of “coddling” the industries

Repost from DESMOGBLOG
[Editor: The influential White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) is reviewing the newly-proposed oil-by-rail safety regulations rolled out by the DOT and PHMSA.  Significant quote: “A DeSmogBlog review of OIRA meeting logs confirms that in recent weeks, OIRA has held at least ten meetings with officials from both industries on oil-by-rail regulations. On the flip side, it held no meetings with public interest groups.”  See also important statements by BNSF and the DOT on the need for an entirely new tank car design near the end of this article.   – RS]

Meeting Logs: Obama White House Quietly Coddling Big Oil on “Bomb Trains” Regulations

Sun, 2014-06-15  |  Justin Mikulka and Steve Horn

When Richard Revesz, Dean Emeritus of New York University Law School, introduced Howard Shelanski at his only public appearance so far during his tenure as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Revesz described Shelanski as, “from our perspective, close to the most important official in the federal government.”

OIRA has recently reared its head in a big way because it is currently reviewing the newly-proposed oil-by-rail safety regulations rolled out by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

During his presentation at NYU, Shelanski spoke at length about how OIRA must use “cost-benefit analysis” with regards to regulations, stating, “Cost-benefit analysis is an essential tool for regulatory policy.”

But during his confirmation hearings, Shelanski made sure to state his position on how cost-benefit analysis should be used in practice. Shelanski let corporate interests know he was well aware of their position on the cost of regulations and what they stood to lose from stringent regulations.

Regulatory objectives should be achieved at no higher cost than is absolutely necessary,” Shelanski said at the hearing.

Howard Shelanski; Photo Credit: White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs

With the “cost-benefit analysis” regarding environmental and safety issues for oil-by-rail in OIRA’s hands, it appears both the oil and rail industries will have their voices heard loudly and clearly by the White House.

A DeSmogBlog review of OIRA meeting logs confirms that in recent weeks, OIRA has held at least ten meetings with officials from both industries on oil-by-rail regulations. On the flip side, it held no meetings with public interest groups.

Cost-Benefit”: A Brief History

OIRA was created in 1980 by President Ronald Reagan with the goal of getting rid of “intrusive” regulations.

“By instructing agencies to clear drafts of regulations through OIRA, Presidents have made the agency…a virtual choke point for federal regulation,” explains the Center for Progressive Reform, a think-tank critical of OIRA and its cost-benefit analysis.

Cost-benefit analysis was put on the map by Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein, “regulatory czar” and head of OIRA for President Barack Obama before Shelanski.

The ideology, which is embraced by President Obama, is inspired by the “Chicago School” of free market economics, unpacked in depth in Naomi Klein’s book, “The Shock Doctrine.

He’s a University of Chicago Democrat, so he’s very attuned to the virtue of free markets and the risks of free-market regulation,” Sunstein told The Wall Street Journal about Obama in 2009. “He’s not an old-style Democrat who’s excited about regulations.”

Cass Sunstein; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Washington Post described Sunstein as Obama’s “intellectual mentor” who “had a major influence on Obama’s view of government — stressing pragmatism over ideology.”

But of course, the “Chicago School” has its own ideological roots: neoliberalism.

Big Oil Meet and Greet

The first on-the-books meeting OIRA held in the second quarter of 2014 about the newly-proposed oil-by-rail safety regulations written by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) was with lobbyists, economists and attorneys representing both the American Petroleum Institute (API) and Chevron on May 19.

Attendees of that meeting included Misty McGowen, Director of Federal Relations for API and Michael Yoham, Manager Rail Transportation Services for Chevron.

This API-Chevron White House visit parallels the one they made together when OIRA mulled over new rules on sulfur in gasoline. In 2012, a group led by API president Jack Gerard went to the White House to discuss this issue with another of President Obama’s closest advisers, Valerie Jarrett.

This visit clearly paid dividends for the industry when the new regulations were delayed.

Akin to what is currently happening with the oil-by-rail regulations regarding Bakken shale oil and the DOT-111 tank cars, it was coordinated with a big public relations push trashing the regulations as unnecessary.

History, as they say, has repeated itself in the oil-by-rail sphere.

A new report touting the safety of oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale was released by industry groups the same week as the API-Chevron visit with OIRA.

Image Credit: ShutterstockTrueffelpix

Less than two weeks later on May 30, OIRA met with representatives from the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) and Tesoro, among others. Stephen H. Brown, a Tesoro lobbyist, represented the company — which has a multi-pronged oil-by-rail footprint — at the meeting.

AFPM has also gone on the record saying Bakken fracked oil is safe for railway transportation, also concluding DOT-111 tank cars are “fine” for moving Bakken crude to market.

Can we have an intellectually honest discussion about mechanical and track integrity on the rails?,” AFPM president Charles Drevna asked rhetorically in a May 19 Railway Age article. “You shouldn’t blame the cargo for an accident.”

Other Big Oil companies that got the ear of OIRA in June included Phillips 66 (purchased as a wholly-owned subsidiary by ConocoPhillips in 2001) and ExxonMobil.

BNSF Lands Two Meetings in One Week

Records also reveal OIRA met twice in one week with Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF), the oil-by-rail behemoth owned by Warren Buffett. The first was held on June 3 and the second on June 6.

Buffett was a major donor to President Obama for both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. He also gave big money to Hillary Clinton — former Secretary of State for the Obama Administration and likely presidential candidate in 2016 — during the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primaries, and has already endorsed her for 2016.

Warren Buffett (L), President Barack Obama (R); Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

BNSF Executive Chairman Matthew Rose came to the June 3 meeting flanked by two BNSF lobbyists: Amy Hawkins and Cliff Rothenstein (who maintains BNSF as a client on behalf of K&L Gates). Some speculate Rose could succeed Buffett as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company that bought BNSF in 2009.

On June 6, Roger NoberBNSF Executive Vice President for Law and Corporate Affairs, landed a one-on-one meeting with Shelanski. Before working for BNSF, Nober passed through the government-industry revolving door, serving as an attorney for the Department of Transportation.

According to an article published in EnergyWire, BNSF supports an “aggressive phase out” of its DOT­-111 tank cars.

”[BNSF] believe[s] the next ­generation tank cars should exceed the 2011, stronger new standard known as the CPC­-1232 tank car,” Roxanne Butler, a spokeswoman for BNSF told EnergyWire.

Butler did not respond to questions from DeSmogBlog about what BNSF discussed with OIRA in the meetings, nor did she specify what she meant by an “aggressive phase out.”

The CSX Corporation oil-by-rail train that exploded in Lynchburg, Virginia in late-April, though, had CPC-1232 “next ­generation tank cars.”

On the May 14 edition of The Rachel Maddow Show, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx told Maddow that he does not believe the CPC-1232 is the solution.
Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx interview with Rachel Maddow, via YouTube.

I can tell you that I don’t have confidence in the DOT-111 [and] I’m unconvinced that the 1232 — which is the upgraded car — is the absolute solution,” said Foxx. “I think there’s going to have to be a new type of tank car established to keep this country as safe as possible.”

Oil Exports Connection

For its first oil-by-rail meeting of June, DOT officials and OIRA officials sat alongside Russell Smith, lobbyist for oil and gas industry capital investment firm Quantum Energy; FTI Consulting lobbyist John Cline; and John Whitcomb, legislative analyst for FTI Consulting.

Cline formerly headed up C2 Group, a Washington, DC-based lobbying group purchased in March 2013 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of FTI Consulting.

BNSF is one of C2 Group’s clients.

As his C2 Group biography explains, Cline has also passed through the revolving door, formerly working for both the White House and DOT

John served in the White House as a Special Assistant for Intergovernmental Affairs under President George H.W. Bush,” Cline’s bio states.

Prior to his service in the White House, he was Director of the Office of Congressional Affairs for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)… John entered public service in 1989 upon his selection by President Bush as Associate Administrator for the Federal Transit Administration at DOT.”

FTIoverseer of public relations efforts for fracking front group Energy in Depth — published a report promoting oil exports in June 2013.

Many prospective coastal crude oil export terminals rely on oil-by-rail to move product to the coast.

For example, the exploding CSX Corporation oil-by-rail train in Lynchburg, Virginia owned by Plains All American was on its way to the Yorktown facility. Yorktown has been marked a potential export terminal if the ban on exporting U.S. oil is lifted.

Map Credit: CSX Corporation

Cui Bono?

While Shelanski’s remarks at NYU discussed cost-benefit analysis, he also talked about how the question over regulatory policy often boils down to shifting costs.

A more honest debate and better policy will emerge if the debate acknowledges the difference between creating costs and shifting costs back to their source to reduce harmful externalities,” he said.

Which raises the big questions on oil-by-rail regulations, or lack thereof: cui bono? And who pays the costs?

A case in point is Lac-Mégantic, Quebec — site of the massive “bomb train” explosion which killed 47 people on July 6, 2013 — where the cost to clean up and rebuild the town is estimated at $2.7 billion.

Lac-Mégantic Disaster; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

With all six of the oil and rail companies involved refusing to pick up the tab, the cost has been transferred to taxpayers from the oil and rail industries.

Exactly what API, Chevron, ExxonMobil, BNSF and other powerful factions discussed in their meetings with OIRA remains unknown for now.

But one thing remains clear: the only side OIRA has listened to so far in official meetings is Big Oil and Big Rail.

This is consistent with the trend-lines unpacked in the Center for Progressive Reform’s study titled, “Behind Closed Doors at the White House,” a comprensive review of OIRA meeting logs between 2001-2011.

“Over the last decade, 65 percent of the 5,759 meeting participants who met with OIRA represented regulated industry interests — about five times the number of people appearing on behalf of public interest groups,” stated the report.

“[E]ven under this ostensibly transformative President [Obama]…industry visits outnumbered public interest visits by a ratio of almost four to one.”

Table Credit: Center for Progressive Reform

As the old adage goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“The oil-by-rail situations illustrates the way that the process is, all too often, stacked in favor of industry,” Daniel A. Farber, professor at University of California Law School, scholar for the Center for Progressive Reform and critic of OIRA‘s version of cost-benefit analysis, told DeSmogBlog.

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