Tag Archives: Rail 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.”

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Tesoro Savage Port of Vancouver report: 28 more oil trains each week; salmon, earthquake, derailment risks, etc.

Repost from the Seattle Times
[Editor:  The press is full of revealing information taken from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) analyzing the proposed Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Project.  The document was released yesterday.  Several media links are provided below.  – RS]

28 more oil trains across state each week if big terminal built, study says

By Hal Bernton,  November 24, 2015, Updated 11/25/15 9:25 am

A major oil terminal proposed for Vancouver, Wash., would bring an additional 28 oil trains per week across the state and launch a new era of oil-tanker traffic down the Columbia River, according to a draft state study released Tuesday.
…but concerns about the risks of oil-train derailments … the study noted that trains also may deliver bitumen — a heavier crude …  [FULL STORY]

Also see:

 

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Oil Train Response 2015 – activists gather in Pittsburgh

Repost from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
[Editor:  The report below is the only mainstream media coverage of the Nov. 14-15 event “Oil Train Response 2015” that I could find.   Facebook users can check out photos and brief comments at Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition and IWW Environmental Unionist Caucus.  Tweeters can catch a few pics via past tweets by Ethan Buckner.  Here is the agenda, and here is a related 1-hour video “Oil Train Webinar” organized in advance of the event by ForestEthics.  – RS]

Local officials tout alliances to push for stronger oil train regs

By Daniel Moore / November 14, 2015 12:00 AM

What Marilaine Savard remembers most is hearing the blast, seeing the flames out her window and a plume of black smoke dimming the sky — but being unable to do anything about it.

It was July 2013 and Ms. Savard was visiting a friend in Lac-Mégantic, a town in rural eastern Quebec that serves as the central hub for about a dozen small communities. It had banks, post offices and bars. Now, she said, the downtown is a desert with all the buildings demolished and the soil contaminated.

The town is now eponymous with the worst rail disaster since a boom in North American oil production put more of the commodity on the rails.

Ms. Savard, who said she now lives and works in Lac-Mégantic to help the community rebuild, was one of dozens of people who gathered in Pittsburgh on Friday to hear from panels of elected officials and academics on what is being done to prevent and respond to derailments of trains carrying crude oil.

The Heinz Endowments organized the daylong conference in a packed hotel ballroom in Oakland. Roughly 60 to 70 trains carrying crude oil — mainly extracted from the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota and destined for refineries on the East Coast — travel through Pennsylvania each week.

In February, a train carrying crude oil derailed and displaced 100 people near Charleston, W.Va.

The two main carriers, Norfolk Southern Corp. and CSX Corp., were not present as organizers wanted to focus the conversation on community engagement with elected officials.

“Individual communities are largely powerless,” said Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments, in an interview. “I think what you are beginning to see is momentum building nationally to address the issue.”

Local officials who flew in from places like New York and Washington state stressed the importance of forming partnerships to put pressure on the U.S. Department of Transportation — the sole regulatory authority over the railroad industry — to enact stricter rules.

Ben Stuckart, chair of the city council in Spokane, Wash., said he helped start the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance, a coalition of local, state and tribal leaders across the Pacific Northwest united by concerns over traffic from coal and oil trains.

“So then, when I go to D.C. and sit with Transportation Secretary (Anthony) Foxx, I’m not just representing citizens of Spokane. I say I’m representing SELA,” Mr. Stuckart said.

“By us all acting together, we make a stronger case for it,” he said.

The conversation was at times testy, as local and state emergency management officials sought to assure the audience they were prepared for a range of disasters.

Environmental groups and others have demanded railroads publicly release specific information on what hazardous materials are being transported on what lines. Local emergency officials have insisted railroads provide them with enough information to respond to incidents, but that information has never been divulged publicly.

Raymond DeMichiei, deputy coordinator for the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, defended keeping the information private, citing the potential for acts of terrorism.

“We have an obligation to make sure the bad guys don’t get the information,” Mr. DeMichiei said.

During a later question-and-answer session, members of the crowd raised the question of secrecy again. “What advantage does it provide for you to know in Downtown Pittsburgh how many day care centers are within a mile on either side of the railroad tracks?” Mr. DeMichiei countered to a question about why such information is private.

“Because this is a democracy,” responded one audience member.

Ms. Savard, who was not on a panel, said most residents who haven’t been forced to relocate away from Lac-Mégantic, she said, are still in a state of shock. Without a downtown hub, the entire region is coping with where to go for basic services.

She hopes, by sharing the struggles of residents two and half years after the explosion, that a movement can begin to influence real change.

“They are not able to see the big picture right now,” she said. “They are trying to survive.”

This story was updated on November 18, 2015 with the correct number of crude oil trains that travel through Pennsylvania.

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