Tag Archives: Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley

‘MOSIER’ Act demands derailment investigations and more

Repost from the Hood River News

‘MOSIER’ Act demands derailment investigations

July 19, 2016

DAMAGED Union Pacific oil train car is trucked away from town on June 8 during an anti-oil train rally at exit 69 in Mosier.
DAMAGED Union Pacific oil train car is trucked away from town on June 8 during an anti-oil train rally at exit 69 in Mosier. Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea

Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden introduced a bill last Wednesday that would compel federal regulators to investigate every major oil train derailment.

The bill came in response to the June 3 fiery derailment in Mosier.

The Mandate Oil Spill Inspections and Emergency Rules (MOSIER) Act calls on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to clarify the Federal Rail Administration’s authority to place moratoriums on oil train traffic after major wrecks, and would require the Department of Transportation to reduce the amount of volatile gases in the crude oil those trains have been hauling.

“As Oregon has seen firsthand, these oil trains are rolling explosion hazards,” Merkley said in a statement. “That’s unacceptable. We need long-term solutions that will keep communities safe. Every accident needs to be fully and independently investigated.”

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley

The NTSB declined to launch a formal investigation into the Mosier derailment because there were no injuries or fatalities, and they deemed the wreck didn’t bring to light any new significant safety issues.

In a July 15 letter, the board replied that the agency “decided not to launch on the Mosier derailment due to limited resources and the current investigative workload in the Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations (RPH). This information indicated that the circumstances of this accident did not pose any new significant safety issues. The tank cars were breached in a manner similar to those that we have seen in other accident investigations. In addition, the derailment resulted in no injuries or fatalities.”

Merkley argued the Federal Rail Administration should have the power to enforce moratoriums until identified problems are fully resolved, and that the more volatile type of crude known as Bakken needs to be “stabilized before it rolls through our communities.”

“Oregonians deserve the strongest possible protections from oil train derailments,” Wyden said. “This bill ensures that federal authorities can stop trains after a major derailment until a thorough investigation has been completed, and that the NTSB has ample resources to closely examine the root causes of such a crash.”

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Sen. Ron Wyden | Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea

The proposed Act would:

  • Require the NTSB to investigate every major oil train derailment and provide resources to hire additional investigators.
  • Clarify the Federal Rail Administration’s authority to put a moratorium on unit oil trains following an accident to allow for investigations to be completed and safety recommendations to be implemented.
  • Requires the Department of Transportation to establish and enforce a standard that reduces the amount of volatile gases in crude oil.

The MOSIER Act would supplement a 2015 rail safety bill, Hazardous Materials Rail Transportation Safety Improvement Act, which seeks to establish a fee on outdated tanker cars in order to get them off the tracks faster. Funds from the fee would pay for cleanup costs associated with railroad accidents, railroad staff cost, and training local first responders.

Merkley and Wyden were among 12 policymakers who signed that bill.

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    NPR: Why Feds Chose Not To Investigate Oil Train Derailment In Columbia Gorge

    Repost from OPB.org, Oregon Public Broadcasting
    [Editor/Background: Here is the  June 9 letter Senators Wyden and Merkley sent to the NTSB. Here is the NTSB’s full 48-page response. (Or jump to page 1 of the NTSB letter below.)  – RS]

    Why Feds Chose Not To Investigate Oil Train Derailment In Columbia Gorge

    By Tony Schick OPB/EarthFix | July 7, 2016 4:45 p.m. | Updated: July 8, 2016 9:06 a.m.
    A 16-car oil train derailment caused a fire and left a small oil sheen on the Columbia River.
    A 16-car oil train derailment caused a fire and left a small oil sheen on the Columbia River. CONRAD WILSON

    The National Transportation Safety Board has responded to letter from Oregon’s senators about why it did not investigate last month’s oil train derailment in the Columbia River Gorge, saying its limited staff likely would not have gleaned any new safety recommendations from examining the incident.

    The federal agency provided a 50-page response to Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, saying it “recognizes the impact of this accident on your constituents and understands the concerns of those affected.”

    The NTSB said it did not send a team to Mosier because the incident involved no injuries or fatalities and because early information gathered from Union Pacific Railroad, first responders and the Federal Railroad Administration “indicated that the circumstances of this accident did not pose any new significant safety issues.”

    Specifically, federal investigators have seen tank cars rupture before when carrying flammable liquids. Their response to the Oregon senators included a list of 23 known incidents in North America involving crude oil, ethanol or other flammable liquids.

    The NTSB opened an investigation into only nine of those and has not yet closed any, according to data relased in the response.

    Wyden said he will be scrutinizing whether the agency needs to increase the size of its investigative staff.

    “As I keep working to build support in Congress for my bill, I will also continue to look at ways to improve oil-by-rail safety,” Wyden said. “I find it very disturbing that the NTSB did not appear to have enough resources to send an investigative team to Oregon to more closely examine the Mosier accident.”


    Read: NTSB Response to Wyden, Merkley

    Page 1 of NTSB-Response-to-Merkley-Wyden-07-05-2016

    Page 1 of NTSB-Response-to-Merkley-Wyden-07-05-2016

    Contributed to DocumentCloud by Tony Schick of EarthFix

    Emergency crews on June 4, 2016, found an oil sheen on the bank of the Columbia River near the site of an oil train derailment and spill in Mosier, Oregon, the day prior. AMELIA TEMPLETON
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      ‘Keep It in the Ground’ Win: Utah Oil and Gas Auction Halted

      Repost from the Center For Biological Diversity
      [Editor: sign their petition .  – RS]

      BLM postpones Utah auction to ‘accommodate’ climate activists

      By Phil Taylor, E and E News, November 17, 2015

      About the CenterThe Bureau of Land Management late last night announced it is postponing today’s scheduled oil and gas lease sale in Salt Lake City to appease activists who are fighting to keep those minerals in the ground.

      BLM had planned to lease up to 37,580 acres scattered around the center of the Beehive State for future oil and gas development, but the agency said it needed more time to “better accommodate the high level of public interest in attending the sale.”

      It marks the first time that the “Keep it in the Ground” climate movement — which seeks to end the sale of federally owned oil, gas and coal — has disrupted a BLM lease auction.

      BLM said it intends to reschedule the sale in the “near future.”

      “As a public agency, we understand the importance of transparency,” said BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall. “Given the large interest, we chose to postpone the sale and will be working to find the best way to accommodate the public and those who wish to attend and participate in the auction when it is held.”

      It was the third consecutive BLM lease sale to be confronted by climate protesters who believe the burning of federally owned fossil fuels will undermine the nation’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

      Roughly 50 people gathered last week outside BLM’s Colorado headquarters in Lakewood to protest the agency’s sale of 90,000 acres in the Pawnee National Grassland, according to the Western Energy Alliance.

      BLM moved forward with that auction, selling 106 parcels covering 83,534 acres for $5 million.

      Protesters also demonstrated outside a Nov. 3 lease sale in Wyoming.

      Crandall said there was not enough room in BLM’s downtown Salt Lake City auction room to accommodate members of the public who wanted to attend. The room is about 28 feet wide by 60 feet long and also has to accommodate up to 30 bidders and reporters, she said.

      BLM planned to live-stream the auction, but many activists insisted on attending in person, she said.

      The “Keep it in the Ground” campaign is backed by some major environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and is buoyed in Congress by legislation from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) that would end new leasing and renewals of nonproducing federal leases for oil, coal and gas.

      The movement is riding the momentum of President Obama’s recent rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline and Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s decision to abandon oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean. It now seeks to stop BLM from leasing fossil fuels in the West and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management from opening the Atlantic Ocean to offshore drilling.

      In Salt Lake City this morning, roughly 40 activists displayed theatrical bidding paddles, held up photos of their grandkids and sang folk songs including John Prine’s “Paradise,” according to Tim Ream, an organizer from WildEarth Guardians who is based in San Francisco and attended this morning’s protest. Organizing groups included WildEarth, the Center for Biological Diversity, Women’s Congress for Future Generations, 350.org, the Rainforest Action Network and Elders Rising for Intergenerational Justice.

      Ream said BLM informed him last week that some members of the public would be turned back from the auction room regardless of whether there was space. This morning’s protest was led primarily by older activists who had no intention of disrupting the sale, he said.

      “They wanted to touch the hearts of those who are selling and buying our public lands,” he said. “They realized two years in prison is too high a price.”

      Ream was referring to the two-year prison sentence handed down in 2011 to activist Tim DeChristopher for his decision to pose as a bidder at a BLM lease sale in Utah in late 2008 and snatch up $1.8 million in leases with no intention of paying for them.

      Vaughn Lovejoy of the group Elders Rising was among those who attended this morning’s rally.

      “We’d like to see if there’s a way to inspire my generation … to spend this piece of our life doing something for the future rather than hanging out on cruise ships or golf courses,” he said.

      Ream said activists will also stage protests at BLM’s upcoming oil and gas lease sales in Reno, Nev., on Dec. 8 and in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 10. “We’re going to keep on hitting every one of these lease sales,” he said.

      The American Petroleum Institute has criticized the movement and Merkley’s legislation as a “political stunt,” warning that halting federal sales of fossil fuels would hike energy costs and hurt the federal government’s coffers.

      The Mineral Leasing Act requires BLM to hold regular oil and gas auctions.

      Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs at the Western Energy Alliance, whose members depend heavily on public lands leasing, said this morning that the Salt Lake City protesters are ignoring how increased production of natural gas has helped the nation transition away from coal that is more harmful to the climate when burned.

      “Apparently, BLM is seeking a larger venue to accommodate the expected crowd of protesters whose goal is to disrupt the sale,” she said. “These same professional protesters bragged that they were traveling to other lease sales to try to disrupt them, but they’re on a fool’s errand.”

      Sgamma noted that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has rebuffed the “Keep it in the Ground” movement as unrealistic.

      “There are millions of jobs around the country that are dependent on these industries, and you can’t just cut it off overnight,” Jewell said in September during a breakfast organized by The Christian Science Monitor (Greenwire, Sept. 15).

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        Oregon & California Senators ask for more oil train notifications

        Repost from The Seattle Times
        [Editor: Significant quote: “The four senators are…asking Foxx to lower the threshold for reporting to no higher than 20 carloads. They say most of the accidents with the exception of the Lac-Magentic disaster were caused by smaller and non-Bakken shipments and resulted in explosions, fires or environmental contamination. In one case, the train carried 14 carloads of flammable liquids; in another, 18 carloads.”  – RS]

        Senators ask for more oil train notifications

        By Gosia Wozniacka, Associated Press, September 30, 2014

        PORTLAND, Ore. — Four West Coast senators are asking the federal government to expand a recent order for railroads to notify state emergency responders of crude oil shipments.

        The letter, sent Monday to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, says railroads should supply states with advanced notification of all high-hazard flammable liquid transports — including crude from outside the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana, as well as ethanol and 71 other liquids.

        The letter was signed by Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

        In May, Foxx ordered railroads operating trains containing more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil — or about 35 tank cars — to inform states that the trains traverse. The order came in the wake of repeated oil train derailments, including in Lac-Magentic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed.

        The West Coast has received unprecedented amounts of crude oil by rail shipments in recent years. More than a dozen oil-by-rail refining or loading facilities and terminals have been built in California, Oregon and Washington, with another two dozen new projects or expansions in the works in the three states.

        But according to the California Energy Commission, oil from the Bakken region accounted just for a fourth of crude-by-rail deliveries to California since 2012. Canadian oil — which travels to California through Washington and Oregon, as well as through Idaho and Montana — accounted for as much as 76 percent of California oil deliveries, the senators wrote.

        Non-Bakken oil is also delivered to refineries and loading facilities in Oregon and Washington — including a terminal in Portland. A controversial proposed terminal in Vancouver, Washington, would also receive some non-Bakken crude.

        Wyden and Merkley in June similarly urged Foxx to expand his order to cover crude from all parts of the U.S. and Canada. Transportation Safety Board Chairman Chris Hart wrote the two senators that month saying all crude shipments are flammable and a risk to communities and the environment — not just the Bakken oil.

        The four senators are now repeating the same demand and are also asking Foxx to lower the threshold for reporting to no higher than 20 carloads. They say most of the accidents with the exception of the Lac-Magentic disaster were caused by smaller and non-Bakken shipments and resulted in explosions, fires or environmental contamination. In one case, the train carried 14 carloads of flammable liquids; in another, 18 carloads.

        The Association of American Railroads has said the rail industry is complying with Foxx’s original order and the group would have to see the specifics of any proposed changes before commenting further.

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