Tag Archives: Maine

Maine’s Right-to-Know Advisory Committee to reconsider hiding oil train data

Repost from the Penobscot Pilot

State to reconsider hiding oil train data

By By Dave Sherwood, Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, August 17, 2016 – 5:15pm
Photo courtesy of Roy Luck. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license / Wikimedia

AUGUSTA — The state committee charged with promoting transparency in government is asking lawmakers to overhaul a 2015 law that made secret information about the transportation of crude oil and other hazardous materials by railroad through Maine.

The legislature’s Right-to-Know Advisory Committee voted Wednesday to send a letter to the Judiciary Committee recommending that it reconsider the controversial law in order to ensure that the government is not keeping railroad data secret unnecessarily.

The legislation in question, enacted in October 2015, initially prevented officials from divulging information that it had previously provided to the public about rail shipments of hazardous materials passing through the state. The law took effect more than two years after a runaway oil train killed 47 people and leveled the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, just across the border from Maine.

Lawmakers and railroad lobbyists said secrecy was needed to protect confidential business information and prevent terrorist attacks, but transparency advocates argued the public has the right to know what the trains are carrying.

Committee members sided Wednesday with transparency advocates, asking lawmakers in the letter to carefully weigh the public’s interest in having access to the information against potential safety concerns or business interests.

“We recommend the Judiciary Committee consider submitting a committee bill…in a manner that allows the most meaningful participation by stakeholders, state and local government entities and other members of the public,” states the letter, which will be submitted to lawmakers before the upcoming legislative session begins in December.

Eroding FOAA

The controversy over the oil train data underscores the gradual erosion of Maine’s 40-year old Freedom of Access Act, which was originally intended to ensure citizens have access to government information but has become increasingly riddled with loopholes.

As of 2015, state legislators had approved at least 450 exceptions to the law, each of which allows the government to keep certain information secret from the public. Last year’s railroad law added nearly 200 pages of chemicals shipped by rail to the growing list of secrets kept by the government, according to a memo filed with the committee by the Department of Environmental Protection in July.

Environmental officials questioned whether the exception was necessary.

“The additional burden of reviewing this list….provides no increase in safety for the citizens of Maine,” DEP officials wrote to the Right-to-Know advisory committee.

Right-to-Know Committee member Judy Meyer, the executive editor of the Lewiston Sun Journal, noted in July that it was ironic that the law made secret the contents of railroad cars that any citizen could observe passing through a railroad crossing.

“To make private these records that are rolling through our city streets is odd to me,” Meyer said.

The committee’s recommendation to clarify the law follows a February 2016 investigation by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting that showed lawmakers who approved the bill repeatedly bypassed safeguards designed to prioritize the public’s right-to-know over private business interests.

Following a Freedom of Access Act request by the Center, environmental officials consulted with the Attorney General and once again began providing railroad data to the public, but in July admitted there was still confusion over the law’s intent.

“The Department…seeks to clarify the exact information that is exempted by the law,” according to the DEP memo submitted to the committee.

RAILROAD HAZMAT

Interest in railroad cargoes through Maine piqued in early 2013, when the state became top exporter of crude oil by rail. Maine, the country’s easternmost border state, was a key transit point between the oil fields of western North America and the 300,000-barrel-per-day Irving oil refinery in neighboring Saint John, New Brunswick, one of New England’s largest suppliers of gasoline.

After the Lac-Megantic accident, environmentalists began protesting the cargoes, blocking railroad tracks and calling for a ban on its transport.

Around the same time, documents uncovered by the Maine Center For Public Interest Reporting investigation showed the railroad industry began lobbying to keep data on its cargoes secret from the Maine public.

Former Rep. Mike Shaw, D-Standish, the legislator who sponsored the bill and a railroad conductor by trade, had initially argued the legislation was needed to ensure railroads provided emergency officials with details about hazardous material shipments through Maine.

But the 80-word bill that emerged last year did nothing to make railroads provide information to local first responders. Instead, it only forced the state to keep those details secret from the public when railroads volunteered the data.

The legislation, which created the 460th exception to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, also contradicted the findings of federal regulators. A year earlier, they had determined that information about oil train shipments was “neither security-sensitive nor commercially-sensitive,” according to a notice published in the Federal Register.

The bill nonetheless became law in June 2015 over a sharply worded veto from Gov. Paul LePage.

When presented with these findings in an interview in January, former Rep. Shaw, who resigned from the legislature in August for personal reasons, said he was willing to encourage lawmakers to amend the bill to allow officials to disclose volumes of crude oil moving through Maine.

“Keeping them confidential was really never my intention,” said Shaw.

Dave Sherwood is a contributing writer to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, a nonpartisan, non-profit news service based in Augusta.

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Rail company ends shipping of crude oil in Maine & New Hampshire

Repost from The Portland Press Herald
[Editor:  Interesting summary of various effects on rail companies following the Lac-Mégantic disaster.  – RS]

Irving ends rail shipping of crude oil through Maine

The cutback is due to a drop in global demand and is not related to the Lac-Megantic rail disaster, the firm says.
By Tom Bell, July 15, 2015

Irving Oil has stopped shipping crude oil on railroads through Maine and has no plans to revive the practice.

The Canadian company, which operates an oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick, confirmed the policy change in a June 30 email to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.

The change means there will be no more oil shipments though New Hampshire and southern and central Maine on Pan Am Railways. In addition, there will be no more oil shipments on the Eastern Maine Railway, which connects with Pan Am at Mattawamkeag and continues through Washington County to the Canadian border.

The cutback is because of global oil-supply-and-demand issues and is not related to the fallout from the Lac-Megantic rail disaster, Mark Sherman, Irving’s chief operating officer, told the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. The U.S. demand for Canadian-produced petroleum products has declined in the wake of an oversupply of oil from domestic and Mideast sources.

In 2012, Maine railroads shipped 5.2 million barrels of crude oil, but shipments declined sharply after the July 6, 2013 accident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when an unattended 74-car freight train carrying Bakken crude oil rolled and derailed, resulting in a fire and explosion that killed 47 people.

The railroad involved in the disaster, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, never carried oil again and went bankrupt. Its successor, the Central Maine & Quebec Railway, also has never carried oil because of political opposition in Lac-Megantic.

Pan Am, whose trains travel through Portland, carried just 15,545 barrels of oil in all of 2014, according to records the company filed with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. In 2015, Pan Am has carried 37,128 barrels. All those shipments occurred in February, the last month the railroad delivered oil to the Irving refinery, according to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.

An official with Pan Am could not immediately be reached for comment.

John Giles, CEO of Central Maine & Quebec Railway, had been seeking an agreement with Lac-Megantic officials to restart oil train shipments through the Canadian town. On Tuesday, Giles said the railroad does not need to carry oil to be profitable.

“I was never counting on moving crude oil in the first place,” Giles said.

Giles said his railroad spent $10 million to upgrade the rail line last year and is spending $6 million this year, with about half of that investment in Maine.

An investigation after the Lac-Megantic accident found that the tank-car labels understated the flammability of the oil. Twenty-five companies have offered a total of $431 million (Canadian) to settle lawsuits arising out of the disaster. Irving Oil’s contribution is $75 million. The settlement is being considered by U.S. and Canadian courts.

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NRDC Attorney: The tar sands invasion that can be stopped

Repost from NRDC Switchboard, Danielle Droitsch’s Blog

The tar sands invasion that can be stopped

Danielle Droitsch
Danielle Droitsch, senior attorney with NRDC, Canada Project Director, International Program.

By Danielle Droitsch, April 28, 2015

Many across the United States are aware of the tar sands threat posed by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline but what many may not know is the U.S. faces a looming threat that is bigger than just this one pipeline. We call it a tar sands invasion. The plan would be to complete a network of pipelines (both new and expanded), supertankers and barges, and a fleet of explosive railway tank cars. What is at risk? San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, the Great Lakes, the Hudson River and other places we all call home. While the threat of this invasion is already here with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the good news is that citizens across North America are rising up to respond and repeal the assault with a clear message: Not by pipeline, not by rail, not by tanker. The good news is that public opposition to tar sands oil is rising and projects like Keystone XL and Northern Gateway have been delayed. The tar sands assault is not inevitable. In fact, the U.S. doesn’t need this dirty form of fuel and neither does Canada. The time has come to limit tar sands expansion in favor of a cleaner and brighter energy future.

Tar Sands Invasion Map 4-27-15.jpg

A new report released by NRDC reveals that the amount of tar sands crude moving into and through the North American West Coast could increase by more than 1.7 million barrels per day if industry proposals for pipelines, tankers and rail facilities move forward. For more information about this new information see posts by my colleagues Anthony Swift and Josh Axelrod. Why the west coast? With the majority of the world’s heavy oil refinery capacity, the United States including the west coast is a critical market for the tar sands industry. To be clear, Keystone XL still remains at the heart of the industry plan to expand tar sands and gain access to the global market. But industry is still pushing hard for other ways to expand especially as KXL flounders. It is important to keep in mind the tar sands industry – which currently produces about 2 million barrels per day (bpd) – plans to triple production to exceed 6 million bpd in the next fifteen years. The oil industry has made clear it needs all of its rail and pipeline proposals to achieve its massive production goals.

We know that the tar sands industry and Canadian government has long had a plan to quadruple or more tar sands extraction in Canada. KXL has always been a huge part of that. But it is now very clear that they also plan to access the U.S. and global market through every means possible.

This threatened invasion puts our communities, waters, air and climate in jeopardy. The Tar Sands Solutions Network has done an outstanding job outlining many of the different campaigns that are emerging across North America. This plan threatens to expose communities from California to New York to health, safety and environmental risks unless the public rallies to stop it. Here are some of the specific impacts that North America faces as a result of the tar sands invasion:

  • Across the West Coast, tar sands laden tanker and barge traffic could increase twenty-five fold, with a projected 2,000 vessels along the Pacific West Coast– including the Salish Sea and the Columbia River–shipping nearly two million barrels of tar sands crude every day.
  • A dozen proposed rail terminals would substantially increase tar sands by rail traffic going through densely populated American citizens like Los Angeles and Albany New York risking explosive derailments of hazardous crude unit trains
  • Nearly a million barrels of tar sands would be destined for California and Washington refineries, exposing fenceline communities in Anacortes, San Francisco and Los Angeles to increasing toxic air pollution.
  • In the Midwest, the pipeline company Enbridge is moving to nearly double the flow of tar sands moving through the Great Lakes region, an area that already has suffered from a 2010 spill of more than 800,000 gallons of the tar sands into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan sending hundreds of residents to the hospital. Four years later, the cleanup, which has cost more than $1 billion, is still unfinished.
  • On the East Coast, the tar sands industry is seeking to build the Energy East pipeline across Canada. The pipeline would run from Alberta east across Canada to New Brunswick and Quebec, carry 1.1 million barrels of tar sands oil per day and require hundreds of oil tankers traveling along the East Coast and Gulf Coast annually, through critical habitat of the extremely endangered Right Whale.
  • In Albany, New York, a proposed oil transfer facility could lead to the shipment of tar sands oil on barges down the Hudson River or rail cars along the river destined for facilities in the New Jersey and Philadelphia areas.
  • In Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, the constant threat of a proposed reversal of the aging Portland-Montreal Pipeline is likely to arise again as Enbridge completes work on a pipeline reversal that will connect the tar sands directly to Montreal this summer.
  • This network of pipelines will feed refineries that produce millions of tons of hazardous petroleum coke waste – known as “petcoke” – which are piling up in residential neighborhoods like Chicago.
  • In Canada, pipeline companies are trying to access the west and east costs with pipeline proposals that would ship the heavy tar sands oil across pristine landscapes in British Columbia or across the Prairies into Ontario and Quebec. Communities are raising concerns about the threat of a spill to waters from the pipeline or tankers leaving the Bay of Fundy of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
  • And last but not least, communities in Alberta at ground zero have been facing the enormous consequences of tar sands development which has brought about significant contamination of water, air, and land. Increasingly, there are calls for a moratorium on development.

Targeting at risk communities

The tar sands invasion puts a high toll on low-income and aboriginal communities located in railway corridors, near oil refineries, and next to petcoke waste sites. In refinery fence-line communities, emissions associated with tar sands are suspected to be even more detrimental to human health than existing harmful emissions from conventional crude. Derailments of tar sands unit trains – mile long trains carrying over a hundred tankers full of explosive tar sands crude – pose a catastrophic risk for communities throughout the country. And as more tar sands oil is refined in the United States, the public will also face increased health and environmental risks from massive piles of petroleum coke, a coal-like waste full of heavy metals that results from tar sands oil refining and can cause serious damage to the respiratory system.

Industry would like for you to believe that tar sands development is inevitable and there is nothing that can be done. Wherever they turn today they are being faced with public opposition. Expansion is not inevitable, especially because of this growing and formidable opposition.

A climate problem

It is clear that tar sands reserves – some of the world’s most carbon intensive – are at the top of the list of reserves that must remain in the ground. Mounting scientific and economic analysis shows that the tar sands industry’s proposed expansion plan is incompatible with global efforts to address climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that 75% or more of discovered fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground in order to limit warming to the international two degrees Celsius goal. The clear inconsistency between tar sands expansion and efforts to address climate change have made opposition to tar sands expansion projects a clear rallying point for a broad group of allies advocating for action on climate.

A water problem

A tar sands spill from train, pipeline, or tanker could devastate local economies, pristine wilderness, harm human health, and lead to an especially costly and challenging cleanup. Tar sands spills have proven more damaging than conventional spills, as heavy tar sands bitumen sinks below the water surface making it difficult to contain or recover. A spill from shipping the tar sands crude could devastate communities, contaminate freshwater supplies or marine habitats and damaging local economies.

Undermining efforts to grow our clean energy economy

The growing exploitation of Alberta’s tar sands threatens to undermine North American efforts to build a clean energy economy and combat global climate change. Because most tar sands crude is destined for the United States, its expansion would create a greater dependence on the world’s dirtiest crude oil and undermine our transition to environmentally sustainable energy and a cleaner transportation fleet. Responding to the tar sands invasion will require solutions reduce fossil fuel use and spur low-carbon transportation and energy solutions such as broadened electric vehicle use and development of renewable and clean fuels.

This tar sands invasion can be stopped: Clean Transportation Solutions

The good news is this tar sands invasion can be stopped starting with leadership from government officials to embrace climate and sustainable transportation solutions. NRDC’s report for the west coast outlines detailed recommendations for decision-makers at all levels. The first step is for decision-makers at all levels to become familiar with the unique issues associated with tar sands oil and then to actively identify the full range of solutions to confront this problem. Without action, the U.S. will unintentionally become a thoroughfare for this oil undermining climate policies and presenting risks to communities and water. With support for regional clean energy policies, we can prevent the influx of tar sands crude and build the green infrastructure and public support necessary to begin transitioning to a clean energy economy.

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