Tag Archives: Pittsburg CA

The Dangers of Crude Oil By Rail in California and the Nation: Official Evasions and Possible Solutions

Reposted from an email sent by the author, Dr. Paul W. Rea, PhD.  This article has also appeared in The Daily Censored.
[Editor – Highly recommended.  This is a comprehensive summary on the issues surrounding crude by rail to date.  – RS]

CAN’T YOU HEAR THE WHISTLE BLOWIN’?

The Dangers of Crude Oil By Rail in California and the Nation: Official Evasions and Possible Solutions

By Paul W. Rea, PhD

“Our regulators have got to figure out whether they’re working in the interest of the American people or the oil industry.”

—Tom Weisner, mayor of Aurora, Illinois who shudders when he hears trains hauling crude oil through his Chicago-area town.

Just a year ago, 63 tank cars exploded and a firestorm engulfed Lac Mégantic, Quebec. In the middle of the night, highly volatile crude oil exploded into boiling balls of fire. With a radius of one kilometer, the blast and firestorm incinerated much of the town.

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The remains of many among the 47 victims were never found. Today residues from crude oil and heavy metals have rendered areas Lac Mégantic uninhabitable.

Media Silence about Oil Trains

Mile-long freight trains are hardly quiet, but somehow a drastic increase in oil trains has, until very recently, gone largely unheard. Beyond a lack of media attention, the incremental, rather than sudden, increases in oil-train traffic have made them harder to notice. While some of us have been fighting the Keystone XL pipeline, we may not have noticed the surge coming down the track on a mega-pipeline on rails. In 2008, American railroads were running 9,000 tank cars; today the number has soared to 434,000 (https://www.aar.org/keyissues/Documents/Background-Papers/Crude%20oil%20by%20rail.pdf).

Few Americans are aware that, nationally, transport of crude oil by train has jumped 45-fold between 2008 and 2013, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report(http://time.com/2970282/a-year-after-a-deadly-disaster-fears-grow-about-the-danger-of-crude-oil-shipped-by-rail/).

Nor are many Californians aware that, since 2007, their state has experienced a surge in crude-oil trains of 400%; and in 2013, the trains shot up at the highest rate yet. The number will likely spike still higher this year and next. These sharp increases mean that railroads and refineries are both expanding, subjecting the public to additional risks. In 2011, a fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California belched out a huge cloud of toxic black smoke, sending 15,000 residents to the hospital (http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Chevron-refinery-fire-a-close-call-3802470.php).

Even if no accident occurs, public health consequences follow the transport fossil fuels. These include increased air pollution (soot and particulate matter from diesel smoke and coal dust, toxic fumes from refineries). These pollutants affect public health—especially among lower-income people who cannot afford to live very far from railroads and refineries.

Fire Bombs on Rails

Increasingly, accidents are occurring. Twelve derailments have occurred in the past year—one a month.

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Some have sparked huge explosions and fires, such as one that happened in Casselton, N.D. in December of 2013. First note the size of the towering fireball relative to the rail cars below; then imagine the conflagration that would have occurred if all of them had been tankers full of Bakken crude.

So it’s not a matter of if, but of when, where, and just how disastrous the debacles will be. Diane Bailey, Senior Scientist for the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), warns that given the archaic regulations, high speeds, and aging infrastructure, accidents are just waiting to happen; “so far we’ve been lucky.”

While these trains commonly pull 100 tank cars and run a mile long, they can include 150 cars and run a mile and a half long (http://earthjustice.org/news/press/2014/community-leaders-advocates-call-on-secretary-of-transportation-to-ban-use-of-hazardous-rail-cars?utm_source=crm&utm_content=button). And these trains often carry highly flammable crude of the sort that caught fire in Lac Mégantic. Here in California, oil-train accidents have jumped from 3 in 2011 to 25 in 2013, even outpacing the steep increases in the number of trains. Nationally, train wrecks have increased 14 fold in the past five years, at an even faster rate than the increase in rail traffic (NPR “Weekend Edition” 7.6.14). The fact that mile-long trains carry nothing but crude oil increases the chances that if there is a derailment, a huge amount of liquid fuel suddenly becomes available, often feeding a chain conflagration

Nationally as well as locally, government officials have called for better preparation of first responders to fight crude-oil fires. This is hardy the solution to the problem, which surely lies with prevention. Fire Chief Greg Cleveland of La Crosse, Wisconsin indicates that despite upgrades, his firefighters have neither the advanced training nor the specialized equipment to lay foam on boiling balls of fire (NPR “Weekend Edition” 7.6.14). Moreover, they may not be able to reach a wrecked train quickly, if at all. Tragic experience with intensely hot forest fires surely suggests the inability of first responders to control huge fireballs pouring out toxic smoke.

Reacting to a rash of train wrecks—particularly to a derailment, a fire, and an oil spill into the James River in May 2014—the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a safety alert citing an “immanent hazard” to the public. This emergency order requires that shippers indicate to state and local officials the number of trains each week, their specific routes, and the contents of the tank cars. It also requires railroads to inform state emergency commissions about any large (one million gallons or more) shipments of oil.

Railroads have long resisted such calls from local officials and first responders to know the amount and contents of the cars; the Association of American Railroads said only that rail companies would “do all they can to comply with the DOT’s emergency order.” Not surprisingly, the railroads have done little to comply:

County Commissioner Caren Ray from San Luis Obispo complains that she has repeatedly requested information on arriving trains but does not receive it (http://www.energy.ca.gov/2014_energypolicy).

Defective Tank Cars

For many years the standard tank cars, known to the industry as DOT 111s,have proved prone to rupture when overloaded or involved in a wreck. Two thirds of the tank cars still in use today are older models that safety experts have found vulnerable to puncture. Nevertheless, the railroads still use them to transport increasing flammable “extreme” crude oil.

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In Canada, the 111s built before 2011 are supposed to be phased out by 2017; in the US, however, the DOT is talking about a phase out but has set no date for taking “legacy cars” off the rails. Catering to the carriers and the owners, it has merely called for shippers to use the safest cars in their fleets and for outmoded cars to be replaced “to the extent reasonably practicable.” These recommendations are pathetically weak. They guarantee that the most flammable crude will be carried in the most dangerous tank cars (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/08/business/us-orders-railroads-to-disclose-oil-shipments.html?_r=0).

And are the newer models significantly safer? The Canadian Transportation Safety Board found that the post-2011 design, though an improvement, is still not safe enough for the transport of hazardous liquids like crude oil. Except for a few reinforced areas, the steel is still only a half inch thick.

One might suspect that federal regulators are “asleep at the switch,” but their own statements suggest something even more unsettling: Peter Geolz, former managing director at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the agency that investigates crashes, has remarked that the agency may be reluctant to phase out the older DOT-111s out of fear of slowing the U.S. energy boom (http://topics.bloomberg.com/national-transportation-safety-board). In other words, the feds figured “we wouldn’t want to over-regulate railroads; that might slow the biggest oil bonanza in history.”

California Regulators Also “Recommend” Action

While federal agencies largely control railroad traffic, clearly state government has an obligation to protect both the citizens of California and the state’s environment. Not until last winter did Gov. Jerry Brown finally convene an Interagency Rail Safety Working Group to deal with the oil-train juggernaut.

But rather than asking how much oil trains can haul without posing unacceptable risks to health and safety—and then finding ways to limit their length and number—the Working Group simply recommended safety measures for trains and sought to improve emergency responses. The Group’s report, “Oil by Rail Safety in California,” made many recommendations for improved safety procedures but mandated few changes in regulations (http://www.sfgate.com/file/830/830-SCAN6267.PDF).

Even if implemented, small measures such as more frequent track inspections only chip away at the monolith; they do not begin to deal with the big problems stemming from the great length, unprecedented number, and highly flammable contents of today’s crude-oil trains.

At best, these overdue safety recommendations seem utterly inadequate to handle current risks, let alone those involved with still more oil trains that are increasingly, as never before, running through populated areas.

On their way to Bay Area terminals, oil trains run right through cities such as Sacramento, where they endanger the 250,000 residents living near the tracks. How could this degree of risk escape the attention of the state legislators and regulators who work in downtown Sacramento? By the summer of 2014, the residents of Sacramento, Davis, Roseville, Pittsburg, and Benicia were becoming increasingly fearful of ever-more-frequent oil trains. Protests erupted in Sacramento and elsewhere along the line (http://www.sacbee.com/2014/07/08/6541363/crude-oil-train-protests-planned.html).

Oil Trains To Rumble Down East Bay Urban Corridor

Railroads and refineries are now planning to run crude oil trains along the highly urbanized east side of San Francisco Bay. A proposed upgrade to the Phillips 66 refinery in Santa Maria, California (outside San Luis Obispo) would allow it to “crack” more Bakken crude arriving from North Dakota on trains passing through Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland, Hayward, Fremont, and San Jose. The Oakland City Council passed a resolution opposing any additional trains running through that densely populated city (http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/18/us-usa-crude-rail-oakland-idUSKBN0ET34620140618).

The Working Group’s Toothless Guidelines

Since the Rail Safety Working Group made recommendations, not regulations, it didn’t take the panel long to publish a report and hold a workshop. Both were intended to reassure the Californians (especially those living along the East Bay rail corridor) that state and local governments are preparing for the increased threats posed by the previous year’s spike in oil trains. The prevention of accidents received much less attention.

Held in Berkeley on June 22nd, a day-long California Energy Commission’s (CEC) Workshop was led by top state officials: Energy Commissioner Janea A. Scott, Chair Robert Weisenmiller, and Public Utilities Commission President Michael R. Peevey. Since this event required a full day from highly paid administrators, it cost taxpayers lots of money.

The Workshop was highly instructive not only about the dangers posed by oil trains but also about the attitudes of state and local officials toward them. The subscript was, “even though we’re not fully ready for accidents, we expect still more of these trains.” Moreover, presenters tended to assume that accidents were the only threat. Although arson, sabotage, terrorism, and especially earthquakes are always potential threats to infrastructure, officials made almost no mention of them.

Workshop Promotes Emergency Responses, Not Prevention of Emergencies  

Throughout the day, mounting dangers to public health and safety—not to mention to the environment—were repeatedly underestimated. Speakers typically welcomed the energy boom and found few problems with the vast increase in oil trains since 2007.

Discussion did not include possible scenarios such as that of an overloaded oil train derailing on an old trestle and starting a forest fire far from first responders or polluting highly sensitive waterways. The state’s worst “high-hazard areas” are both along tracks traversing the Sierras (http://www.energy.ca.gov/2014_energypolicy).

Yet with increasing frequency, oil trains are traversing antiquated iron bridges such as the 1000-foot Clio Trestle spanning the Feather River Canyon. That one was built in 1909, 105 years ago.

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Imagine a mile-long train of substandard tank cars groaning and clanking across an antique trestle over a river that provides a significant percentage of the drinking water needed by a drought-ridden state.

No Big Picture Is Presented

The CEC Workshop was much about normalizing the abnormal, about making mile-long trains carrying highly flammable crude seem not just acceptable, but even inevitable.

Rather than admit that the country is now awash in an oversupply of oil, both government and industry speakers left the impression that the crude coming into California would serve the needs of its residents and the region. Tom Umenhofer, Senior Environmental Advisor to the Western States Petroleum Association, asked the audience to believe that “crude by rail [is] needed to supply the Western US” (http://www.energy.ca.gov/2014_energypolicy).

Speakers failed to mention that the petroleum industry targeted these refineries because they are situated near deep-water ports—and that, once refined, much of the increasingly low-grade crude is already being exported to Japan, China, and India. The Chevron refinery in Richmond, the second largest in the state, is pushing to expand its capacity—but not for the production of California-grade gasoline, the demand for which has declined in recent years (San Francisco Chronicle 7.12.14).

America As a Colony, California as a Sacrifice Area

The stark reality is this: the oil industry is exposing the American people to health and safety hazards so it can profit by refining an oversupply of dirty crude for export. In an ironic reversal, the fossil fuel boom is making the USA into a colonial country, one that suffers the depletion of its resources and the degradation of its environment so it can export its fossil fuels. But “colonial” isn’t the right term, really; the country is not getting subdued or exploited by a colonial power—but by its own corporate giants and their lackeys in government. Ditto for Canada, which is supplying most of the crude coming to California. Odd as it sounds, both countries are plundering themselves and fueling climate chaos.

In doing so, they’re demanding that California bear the risks as they turn key coastal areas into a sacrifice zones. While most of the crude is just passing through on its way to Asia, for those who live along the way there’s no “just” about it.

Listening to state and corporate officials, one does not hear about the larger problems faced by the industry: fracking and acidification technologies have enabled it to tap the vast reserves of the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and the tar sands in Alberta, but with nowhere nearly enough pipelines to carry all this crude. Resistance to pipelines in Canada has put additional pressure on the only other alternative carrier, railroads.

Tank-car trains haul the oil to refineries, which are usually located near seaports; but the industry has encountered resistance to its search for additional ports up and down the West Coast through which it can export gas and oil. Climate change activist Bill McKibbon sees grassroots resistance as part of a global movement to halt the overconsumption of fossil fuels (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-fossil-fuel-resistance-20130411).

At least the Canadians, who are ravaging their north country to extract heavy crude from the tar sands, are up front about why they’re doing this: the conservative government led by Steven Harper and the corporations involved both want the profits from exports.

The Governor, the Legislature,and Big Money

The accepting, often endorsing tone of officialdom at the CEC Workshop fits with the Brown’s administration’s stance on energy production. Much as it has supported fracking, the technology making possible the glut of crude, the administration has also avoided policies that could restrict incoming tanker trains, slow “the energy boom,” or otherwise reduce exports and corporate profits. Only recently—and surely belatedly—did the administration clamp down on the injection of fracking waste into the state’s aquifers (http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/07/19).

As we all know, it pays to “follow the money.” In 2012, Jerry Brown received $5,000,000 from Occidental Petroleum to help fund a favored referendum campaign. Brown has consistently supported hydraulic fracking, calling it “a fabulous opportunity,” one he had to balance against climate protection (Mark Hertsgaard, “How Green Is Brown?” The Nation July 7/14, 2014).

Sacramento is awash in both money and industry lobbyists pushing for more fossil fuels and less alternative energy. ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, remains a major player, just as it is in other statehouses and governor’s mansions. Bankrolled by Koch Industries, Exxon, and Philip Morris, ALEC led successful attacks on clean energy in Ohio and Oklahoma—and now they’re promoting fossil fuels in other states, notably California (http://www.energyandpolicy.org/alec_s_attack_on_clean_energy).

It’s indisputable that Brown and other prominent Democrats are influenced by the vast profits made by fracking oil, shipping and refining it, and then exporting a significant amount from California’s ports, including Richmond and Long Beach. It’s also important to factor in that enviable wages are earned during an energy boom, and that labor unions also make large contributions to Democratic candidates.

Actions State Agencies Should Take

Even if the governor and the statehouse are compromised and unwilling to act, state agencies can get tough. They can require that any new rail-related projects—and there are many just in California—do not go forward until regulations are significantly strengthened, speed limits are lowered, upgrades are made to existing infrastructure, and dangerous tank cars are no longer used in California.

That said, Sacramento cannot solve all the problems; it’s the feds—the DOT and the NTSB—who hold most of the power to regulate railroads and apply the brakes on runaway trains. Getting them to serve the public may be difficult, however, as recent disclosures about the Canadian government reveal. Internal government memos show how the government of Prime Minister Harper is so fixated on getting oil to market cheaply that it has ignored safety warnings from its own experts. The Canadian feds are relying on risky trains since pipelines involve a public review process like the one that has stalled the Keystone XL project (http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/Blog/lac-megantic-one-year-later-what-has-been-don/blog/49833).

Though activists need to keep up the pressure on the feds, the public can’t wait for them to act; in the short term, both activists and regular citizens need to work with state officials, who are apt to be more responsive to sufficient public pressure. The precedent-setting victories of the “national fracking revolt” that surged up in the first half of 2014 provide a heartening example of how grassroots pressure can get results (http://earthjustice.org/blog/2014-july/small-town-fracking-victory-makes-waves-across-the-country?utm_source=crm&utm_content=button).

Challenging the Grand Illusions

State and federal officials in both countries tend to assume that environmental damage can somehow be mitigated or remediated. Both seem to forget the catastrophic oil spills that occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989 and the Kalamazoo River in 2010. Yet how could they forget Deepwater Horizon, the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico that surely challenged conventional ideas about restoring damaged ecosystems? Once large amounts of oil are released, it’s too late for remediation. Today, four years later, any Gulf shrimper can tell you that.

It’s high time to challenge the illusion of endless economic growth on a finite planet. Underlying the policies governing oil trains are the world’s addiction to fossil fuels and the denial, by government and industry alike, that this dependency can continue without destroying the ecosystems that support all life. The obsession with corporate profits is costing us far too much, and the costs can only rise.

At a time when the urgency for climate action is ascendant, when burning fossil fuels clearly exacerbates the earth’s problems, surely it’s irresponsible to focus on the most profitable methods to extract and transport gas and oil. With the survival of so many species now in question, wouldn’t it make sense to leave more oil in the ground and keep it off the rails?

Rather than accepting reality, gradually kicking the habit, and converting to more benign and sustainable energy sources, officials tend to grasp at short-term technological fixes to problems whose solution will require tough choices, clearer perception, and more enlightened values—including a reverence for life.

 Paul W. Rea, PhD, is a researcher, author and activist in Newark, California.

For Further Reading

http://us.wow.com/search?q=human+causes+of+global+warming+articles&s_chn=25&s_pt=aolsem&v_t=aolsem&s_cs=-2823176844128393677&s_it=rhr1_relsearch

http://us.wow.com/search?q=human+causes+of+global+warming+articles&s_chn=25&s_pt=aolsem&v_t=aolsem&s_cs=-2823176844128393677&s_it=rhr1_relsearch

http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/water/fracking/fracking-action-center/

http://www.nrdc.org/

http://www.earthjustice.org/

—For updates on the Alberta Tar Sands: http://www.forestethics.org/

—For the routes of oil trains: http://www.blast-zone.org/

—Juhasz, Antonia. The Tyranny of Oil: the World’s Most Powerful Industry and What We Must Do To Stop It New York: HarperCollins 2008.

    Martinez Environmental Group: Volatile crude by rail IS a concern

    Repost from The Martinez Gazette, Letters

    ‘Volatile crude by rail IS a concern’

    June 26, 2014

    Dear Editor,

    The front page headline of the June 14-15 edition of the Martinez News-Gazette read: “Crude by rail not a local threat, CAER director says.”   The article covered the recent City of Martinez Public Safety Committee, which convened to examine the Bakken crude by rail issue. The meeting was dominated by CAER director Tony Semenza, who is also principal of a consulting firm that serves a number of major local refineries.

    Mr. Semenza was quoted “… there is one train, with up to 100 tanker cars, that originates in Stockton every 7-10 days and ends up at the Kinder Morgan facility in Richmond, traveling via the tracks that parallel Highway 4.” In other words, this train is going right through Martinez! It rolls over the (rusty) Alhambra trestle carrying 3,000,000 gallons of Bakken crude, the same oil that has been exploding all over North America and that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.  According to maps recently released by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an explosion by an oil train on that track would threaten thousands of Martinez residents and endanger five schools located within the zone of impact.

    Minimizing the issue by only focusing on the one present train ignores recent trends and projections for the near future. Only one train now. There were none this time last year.  Next year, if the refineries have their way, there very well could be a drastic increase of oil train traffic through our town. Nationally, crude oil train traffic is skyrocketing, from 9,500 carloads in U.S. in 2008 to 434,000 in 2013.  California crude-by-rail rose an incredible 506 percent just from 2012 to 2013, with a further 24-fold increase expected by 2016. Accidents have also increased across the country.

    Just in the past 11 months, there have been nine major derailments of oil trains, involving explosions, evacuations and spills. These trains spilled over a million gallons of crude oil, more than spilled by railroads in the past 37 years combined. And with crude-by-rail projects pending all around Martinez in Benicia, Pittsburg, Rodeo and Santa Maria, we will  see more than just one train every 7-10 days. So, let’s not minimize the risk. Volatile crude by rail IS something we need to be concerned about here in Martinez.

    The disappointing part of the Martinez Public Safety Committee meeting was the decision by Mike Menesini and Anamarie Avila Farias to not immediately elevate the issue to the full City Council, despite the current threat to our health and safety. If you live anywhere near the tracks, check out www.mrtenvgrp.com for more information, and write or call your city council to ask them to do something meaningful on this issue quickly. Other Bay Area cities have passed resolutions opposing the passage of crude by rail. Martinez needs to do the same.

    Signed,

    Martinez Environmental Group Members Aimee Durfee, Tom Griffith, Bill Nichols, Jim Neu, Kathy Petricca, Guy Cooper, Nancy Peacock, Karen & Arnie Wadler

      Law professor: 9 ways that STATES can help regulate railroad safety and transportation

      Repost from LegalPlanet.org
      [Editor:  Federal preemption under the Commerce Clause is NOT the last and only word on regulating crude oil trains.  Here are some suggestions for State regulation by Professor Jayni Foley Hein, executive director of UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment.  – RS]

      Oil By Rail: Nine Things California Can Do to Increase Safety

      While FRA Considers New Federal Regulations, States Can Ramp Up Prevention and Emergency Response
      By Jayni Hein, June 24, 2014

      At a joint Senate and Assembly hearing last week on oil by rail safety in California, some lawmakers expressed frustration at slow federal action, and asked what California can do to increase public safety. My testimony focused on federal preemption issues, defining areas where the state can regulate, and those where it is preempted by the Commerce Clause, Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), or ICC Termination Act, or all three.

      While the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) have primary authority over railroad safety and transportation, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) shares authority with the federal government to enforce federal rail safety requirements and conduct inspections. And even with strong federal preemption provisions, there are actions that California and other states can take right now to increase public safety in light of the enormous growth of oil by rail.

      Here are nine things the state can do:

      1. Prioritize track and rail car inspection.

      California has more than 5,000 miles of mainline railroad track. Inspection of track and rail cars is vital, as derailments are the most common type of train accident in the United States. A national analysis of freight train derailments from 2001 to 2010 on the Class I freight railroads’ mainline track found that broken track rails or track welds were the leading cause of derailments. Broken rail car wheels and track obstructions are also common causes of derailments. (Liu, et. al. 2012).

      Governor Brown’s new budget includes funding to hire seven additional rail safety inspectors for the CPUC, paid for by rail industry assessments. The state should ensure that it has enough CPUC inspectors to accommodate the projected rise in oil by rail traffic each year. If seven new inspectors are needed right now; we will likely need many more by 2016, when oil by rail shipments are projected to increase as much as 25-fold, to 150 million barrels per year.

      2. Obtain robust data on rail routing, rail car contents, and accident causes.

      California agencies need more information from FRA and the railroads on routes, frequency, and rail car contents, as well as data on train derailments, their causes, and risk factors specific to crude by rail transit. The state should obtain this data from FRA – a recommendation echoed in the June 10, 2014 California Inter-Agency Working Group Report. The CPUC needs both national data and California-specific data in order to do its job.

      3. Conduct an analysis of the risks that crude by rail poses to the state, including identification of high-risk areas of track, and propose specific measures to increase safety.

      The legislature should consider requiring an annual report from the CPUC on the specific risks that crude by rail poses to the state, and measures that it can take to increase safety. Voluntary agreements with the railroads may also be an important outgrowth of this state-specific analysis that can inform where and how to direct limited state resources. As previewed above, this state analysis should be guided by the most recent data available from FRA and the railroads.

      The legislature could also consider requiring information sharing among the relevant state agencies, including CPUC, Office of Emergency Services (OES), Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), California Environmental Protection Agency, and more.

      4. Require state oil spill contingency plans for trains transporting oil into the state.

      SB 1319 (Pavley) would require state oil spill contingency plans for trains transporting oil into the state. Such a state-mandated plan would provide an opportunity to secure better emergency response protection for the environment and public safety.

      5. Get access to daily information on oil shipments into California, and ensure that state and local emergency personnel can access this information immediately in the event of an accident.

      A recent DOT Emergency Order requires that each railroad operating trains containing more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil, or approximately 35 tank cars, to provide states with weekly notice that includes estimated volumes of Bakken oil  transported per week and routing information.

      The state should also have immediate access to real-time shipment information, assuming the technology exists to enable this. The state should also ensure that local emergency response personnel are well trained to deal with any crude by rail accident, and can readily identify the contents of any shipment. Training and information sharing with local emergency response personnel can be paid for by the industry, using a fee or assessment like the 6.5 cent/barrel fee on all oil imports recently approved by the state.

      6. Advocate for more stringent federal safety regulations.

      Legislative pronouncements, as well as the CPUC’s robust participation in the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) are needed to secure better federal standards.

      California joins others states such as New York in advocating for more stringent rail car design standards (phasing out DOT-111 cars, for example), mandatory placards on rail cars identifying Bakken crude oil,  expediting Positive Train Control, and requiring electronically-controlled pneumatic brakes on all crude oil trains. The state can also advocate for further federal analysis of possible routing changes, to avoid sensitive population and habitat areas.

      7. Monitor compliance with new voluntary measures that the railroads agreed to implement this year.

      As part of a February 2014 agreement with DOT, the Class I railroads will perform one additional internal-rail inspection each year than required by the FRA on routes over which trains carry 20 or more tank cars of crude oil, and will conduct at least two track geometry inspections over these routes. The  railroads also agreed to use end-of-train braking systems on all oil trains, and lower train speed in federally-designated “high-threat-urban-areas.”

      The CPUC should monitor the railroads’ compliance with these voluntary measures. At the same time, CPUC and the state should advocate for making these voluntary measures mandatory, by issuing new or revised FRA regulations.

      8. Consider issuing guidance to local permitting agencies on requirements for offloading facilities and oil refinery expansion.

      There are currently at least five crude-by-rail refinery projects being pursued in California: one in Pittsburg, one in Benicia, two in Bakersfield, and one in Wilmington. There is a patchwork of local permitting agencies responsible for land use, air, water, and other local safety and environmental issues that may be relevant to offloading sites and refineries.

      Local government and permitting agencies can deny land use and other permits for refineries and offloading facilities if they find safety risks or improper environmental mitigation under statutes like the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). But, local agency personnel may have varying levels of expertise in oil and rail issues and may apply permitting criteria inconsistently. As such, the state, through the Office or Planning and Research (OPR), should consider issuing guidance to local permitting agencies on necessary permits and requirements for offloading facility or refinery expansion.

      9. Provide guidance on CEQA review and the public comment and participation process, especially relevant to environmental justice communities that may be located near offloading sites or refineries.

      While rail accidents can happen anywhere, communities near offloading sites and refineries are especially vulnerable to oil by rail transport risks. The state can provide information and guidance to these communities on opportunities for engagement, comment and participation.

      In addition, the state can encourage railroads, industry and refineries to work directly with potentially affected communities to disclose as much information as possible about shipments, safety measures, and how community members can participate in the process to make their communities safer.