Tag Archives: Public Safety

California Reps push rail safety amendments, vote no on gutted energy security bill

By Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent, December 6, 2015

California Reps push rail safety amendments, vote no on gutted energy security bill

Benicia’s neighboring congressional representatives, Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) and John Garamendi (CA-3) co-sponsored TWO important amendments in new legislation passed recently by Republicans in the House.  The amendments were not enough to rescue a fundamentally bad bill.  DeSaulnier, Garamendi and Benicia’s rep, Mike Thompson (CA-5), all voted against passage.  (IMPORTANT: See Reasons below.)

1.  According to a December 3 press release, a measure to improve the safety of crude oil rail shipments across the nation, introduced by Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Congresswoman Nita Lowey (NY-17),  and Congressman John Garamendi (CA-3), was passed in the House by unanimous consent and included as an amendment to the Republican sponsored North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act (H.R. 8).

The amendment requires the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to study the maximum level of volatility that is safe for transporting crude oil-by-rail within one year. Since 2008, oil traffic has increased over 5,000 percent along rail routes leading from production zones in the central continent to refineries and hubs along the coast.

“Crude oil production is at record levels, and railroads are moving more crude oil than ever. For over 25 years, I have represented areas in Contra Costa County which include four oil refineries and two destination facilities for oil-by-rail. This initiative is a first step in addressing concerns of communities, like those in my district, that face threats of environmental degradation, injury, and loss of life due to the unsafe handling of volatile oil in our railroad system,” said Congressman DeSaulnier.

2.  Another amendment to the bill, introduced by Rep. Garamendi, added the single word “transportation” to the section directing the Department of Energy to study “energy security valuation methods.”  According to Rep. Garamendi’s press release:

Energy policy can’t simply focus on “generation” …. “How we transport energy deserves very careful consideration. Too often, these choices are made without consideration of strategies to achieve important policy goals like creating good manufacturing jobs and enhancing our national security. Safety must also be a top concern: oil train traffic has increased by 5,000 percent because of the shale oil boom. The risk of derailments, spills and explosions is very real, and we need a volatility standard to guarantee the safety of the communities this oil traffic passes through. Oil trains can and do pass by major residential neighborhoods and schools in my district, including Davis, Dixon, Suisun and Marysville. I want them to be as safe as possible.”

Reasons…
Garamendi’s press release included his reasons for voting NO on the bill as amended:

Despite the success of his amendments, Congressman Garamendi voted against final passage of H.R. 8. The bill started out as a bipartisan compromise on energy policy before being gutted in favor of a bill that caters to the wish lists of big coal and big oil at the expense of consumers, agriculture and the environment.

“The very same week that leaders across the globe are meeting in Paris to find a worldwide solution to climate change, our Congress is seeking to lock our country into dependence on energy sources like coal and oil that pollute our environment and contribute to climate change,” said Congressman Garamendi. “H.R. 8 would artificially subsidize coal, inhibit the development of clean energy technologies, and reverse progress on energy efficiency. With climate change threatening our planet and way of life, we need to search for new solutions, not drag our country back to the energy policy of the last century.”

Congressman Garamendi was especially troubled by the adoption of an amendment to allow unfettered exports of crude oil without any safeguards for American motorists or industries.“If our country is seeking to become energy independent, it makes zero sense to allow unrestricted exports of our oil overseas,” he said. “It may make more profits for the oil industry, but it won’t help consumers, agriculture, or the refinery industry here at home. It’s a bad idea.”

    An Ethical Case Against Valero Crude By Rail

    By Roger D. Straw, Benicia Herald Editor
    October 30, 2015

    Roger D. StrawIn June of 2013, I wrote a guest opinion for the Benicia Herald, “Do Benicians want tar-sands oil brought here?” I had just learned that the City of Benicia staff was proposing to give Valero Refinery a quick and easy pass to begin construction of an offloading rack for oil trains carrying “North American crude.” Valero was seeking permission to begin bringing in two 50-car Union Pacific trains every day, filled with a crude oil. Valero and the City would not disclose where the oil was coming from, but everyone knew of the boom in production in Canada (tar-sands crude) and North Dakota (Bakken crude).

    At that time, my most pressing concern was that Benicia, my home town, not be the cause of destruction elsewhere. Tar-sands oil strip mining is the dirtiest, most energy-intensive and environmentally destructive oil production method in the world. It struck me then, and it still does, as a moral issue. Our beautiful small City on the Carquinez has a conscience. We have a global awareness and a responsibility to all who live uprail of our fair city. Our decisions have consequences beyond our border.

    My article, and my conscience-driven concern, came BEFORE the massive and deadly oil train explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. That wreck and the many horrific explosions that followed involving Bakken crude oil and tar-sands “dilbit” (diluted bitumen) became the sad poster children of a movement to STOP crude by rail. It became all too easy for Benicians to base our opposition on a very legitimate self-protective fear. Not here. Not in our back yard. No explosions in OUR Industrial Park, in our town, on our pristine bit of coastal waters.

    But fear mustn’t deaden our heart.

    I was encouraged to read in the City’s recent Revised Draft EIR, that the document would analyze environmental impacts all the way to the train’s point of origin, including North Dakota and Canada:

    “In response to requests made in comments on the DEIR, the City is issuing this Revised DEIR for public input to consider potential impacts that could occur “uprail” of Roseville, California (i.e., between a crude oil train’s point of origin and the California State border, and from the border to Roseville) and to supplement the DEIR’s evaluation of the potential consequences of upsets or accidents involving crude oil trains based on new information that has become available since the DEIR was published.” [emphasis added]

    Sadly, the City’s consultants never made good on their intention. Our moral obligation to those uprail of Benicia extends, according to the consultants, to our neighbors in Fairfield, Vacaville, Davis, Sacramento, Roseville and to the good folks and mountain treasures beyond, but ONLY TO CALIFORNIA’S BORDER. What happens at the source, in Canada where boreal forests and humans and wildlife are dying; what happens in North Dakota where the night is now lit and the earth is polluted wholesale with oil fracking machinery – what happens there is of no concern to Benicians. Too far away to care. Their air, their land, their water is not our air, land and water. Evidently, according to our highly paid consultants, this is not, after all, one planet.

    Or is it?

    Our Planning Commissioners have more than a civic duty. They and we are called morally and ethically to understand our larger role in climate change and to protect the earth and its inhabitants. Our decision has consequences.

    Together, we can STOP crude by rail.

      Minnesota Governor Pens Scathing Letter To BNSF President Over Oil Trains In Twin Cities

      Repost from CBS Minnesota
      [Editor:  Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton learned about new routing of oil trains in a major metropolitan area AFTER THE FACT.  That is how the railroads notify the public of major changes in crude by rail transport.  It is important to have a sitting Governor join the chorus of voices on this highly significant issue of rail routing and notification.  See the TV news video below, and read Gov. Dayton’s full letter  here.  – RS]

      Dayton Pens Scathing Letter To BNSF President Over Oil Trains In Twin Cities

      By Jennifer Mayerle, October 21, 2015 10:34 PM

      MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Gov. Mark Dayton says he’s deeply concerned about an increase in the number of oil trains traveling through heavily populated areas of the Twin Cities.

      In a letter to the President of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, Dayton estimates an additional 99,000 people are living within an evacuation zone. The areas include spots where thousands gather at a time, like Target Field and the University of Minnesota.

      Kathy Harrell-Latham lives in downtown Minneapolis with her family.

      “We chose this neighborhood because it’s accessible and the risks were relatively limited,” Harrell-Latham said.

      She was concerned to learn 11 to 23 crude oil trains per week are being transported on the Willmar-Minneapolis-St. Paul rail line. And it goes by Target Field, Target Center, the U of M and downtown Minneapolis.

      “There are people that live here and work here all day and we need the safety measures to go above and beyond,” Harrell-Latham said.

      Gov. Mark Dayton wrote a scathing letter to the President of BNSF Railway citing safety concerns and outrage over not being informed of the “significant change in operation, which puts an additional 99,000 Minnesotans at risk.”

      That brings the total number in the state to roughly 425,000.

      “The Governor is absolutely right there should not be these dangerous oil and ethanol trains being routed through population areas,” DFL Rep. Frank Hornstein said.

      Hornstein championed last year’s crude oil transport response bill. He applauds the Governor’s request for the railway to: issue a public statement about the temporary route, to not operate under Target Field during events and to extend first responder training to affected communities, among others.

      It’s in an effort to prevent accidents like this BNSF train that derailed in Montana in July, and a 2013 accident in Quebec that killed 47.

      “We need to have a much stronger safety protocol for these trains as they come through but the railroads are not cooperating and now we have more evidence of that,” Hornstein said.

      In response, BNSF issued this statement:

      “BNSF has multiple routes in the metro area that we utilize for hauling a variety of commodities. We comply with the law and report to the state crude volumes of a certain size and their routes and when they change by 25 percent. That occurred in this case where we have a major expansion project occurring and are rerouting some traffic to accommodate that construction work. Crude oil was already being shipped on the route in question. Volumes and routes can fluctuate for a number of reasons. In all areas of the metro region where we move crude oil and other hazmat, we take a number of steps to reduce risk. We’ll be talking directly with the Governor on his concerns and our ongoing efforts to safely move all commodities by rail.”

       Gov. Dayton has asked BNSF to provide a progress report by the end of the month, and urges them to inform him and the public about changes.

      Read Gov. Dayton’s full letter here.