Another voice: ‘The greenest corner in the richest nation on earth’
By Robin Cody, August 19, 2016
The fiery wreck of an oil train at Mosier is what galvanized many of us to sit on the Burlington Northern railroad tracks in downtown Vancouver on June 18. Twenty-one protesters, ranging in age from 20 to 84, were repeatedly warned of 90 days’ jail time and $1,000 fines for criminal trespassing. And still, we sat.
Protesters got arrested and briefly jailed. Our legal status remained in limbo until recently, when criminal charges were dismissed.
Now we can talk.
The whole idea — of fracking North Dakota and shipping flammable crude oil by rail through the Columbia River Gorge — is not just a threat to people who live near the tracks. It’s also a violation of nature. It’s a big wrong turn in America’s supposed transition from fossil fuels to renewables.
It’s 2016. About climate change and its causes, the evidence is in. Time is running out. Yet many more tanker loads of climate change could come barreling through the Gorge. The proposed Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Project would be the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the Northwest. It would more than double the daily frequency of mile-long oil trains to the Port of Vancouver.
If civil disobedience does any good, it’s in the context of many other groups and individuals speaking out. There were rallies in Hood River and Astoria, tribal action in Mosier, and the alarm expressed by city councils of Vancouver and Portland and Spokane. Columbia Riverkeepers, 350pdx, and many other organizations put the spotlight on industries that contribute to, and profit from, America’s dependence on fossil fuels.
This is about where we live. It would be fundamentally unlike us Cascadians, of all people, to cooperate with big oil’s distant profit.
The world expects the United States to take the lead with climate action. The U.S. looks to California and the Northwest. So here we are, in the greenest corner of the richest nation on Earth. If we don’t step up for the planet, where in the world will momentum take hold? And when we do take a stand, it might really make a difference.
Robin Cody of Portland is the author of “Ricochet River” and “Voyage of a Summer Sun.”
Oil Train Insurance: Washington State and the Billion Dollar Disaster
By Alex Ramel, extreme oil campaign field director, March 28, 2016
Washington is now one of only two states that requires railroads to disclose whether they have sufficient insurance to cover a “reasonable worst case spill.” This is a step in the right direction. But the new rule falls far short of requiring enough insurance to cover a catastrophic oil train derailment, spill and explosion.
The new State rule requires that any major rail company operating in Washington — today, only BNSF — report whether they have sufficient financial resources or insurance to cover the costs of an oil train spill of around $700 million (smaller railroads have smaller requirements). That’s better than nothing, which is what most states have. But it’s not nearly enough.
The deadly Lac Megantic oil train disaster cost more than $1 billion (see page 98 in the federal regulations) and the cost of rebuilding is more like $2.7 billion. As terrible as the Lac Megantic disaster was, and it was a heartbreaking catastrophe, a worst case oil train disaster in Washington could be even much worse.
Washington State’s failure to require railroads to pay the full and true cost of doing business in Washington is an even greater concern if it becomes a precedent in other states. The confusing, undefined phrase “reasonable worst case” appears to have already been copied into a proposed bill in the New York State Assembly.
The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration suggested that a disaster inside a major city could cost $12.6 billion (see page 110). What could a $12 billion derailment look like? BNSF runs oil trains within 20 yards of Safeco Field in downtown Seattle during Mariners games when fans are in the stands.
Insurance monetizes risk, assigning a direct cost to risky behavior and assigning financial value to safety. What would your homeowners insurance company do if you wanted to unload oil tanker trucks in your driveway? They would raise your rates (astronomically) or cancel your policy. Railroads, which operate without requirements to carry adequate insurance, make decisions about assuming risk without an important financial feedback loop. If railroads had to be properly insured for the risk to life, property, and the environment from oil trains, there would be far fewer or zero oil trains.
Last year BNSF was fined for 14 spills and leaks and for failing to report problems along the track in Washington. The summer before that three oil tank cars tipped over in downtown Seattle. Over the last two years four BNSF oil trains have derailed and either spilled or exploded in Casselton, ND, Galena, IL, Heimdal, ND, and Culbertson, MT. Under usual circumstances a safety record like that should lead to a very awkward conversation with an insurance agent. And an already expensive, high-risk policy should get even more expensive. But BNSF doesn’t seem to carry enough insurance to cover the real cost of an oil train disaster, and they don’t seem to care.
BNSF has already intimated that they don’t think that the state should be able to require insurance, and it is likely that the company will challenge the rule. The railroad wants the cost of insurance and the calculation of possible damages kept off of their books. That means that in addition to living with the risk, the public is also asked to shoulder the cost. That’s the most unreasonable proposition yet.
Analysis forecasts derailment every other year if oil train terminal is built
• Wash. state facility would receive 4 trains a day
• Just one fire department in state said it was ready
• BNSF among clients of firm that wrote spill study
By Curtis Tate, November 24, 2015
WASHINGTON – A proposal to build the largest oil train terminal in the Pacific Northwest could result in a derailment every two years and an oil spill from a derailment once every 12, according to a draft analysis by a Washington state agency.
The document, released Tuesday, indicates that most fire departments along the oil trains’ rail route are not prepared for a spill or fire that could accompany a derailment. Out of the 12 departments that responded to the survey request, only one indicated its firefighters are trained and equipped for such an incident.
Further, only half the departments said they knew the locations of BNSF Railway’s specialized firefighting equipment closest to their jurisdiction. And while three-quarters of them reported having access to personal protective equipment, firefighting foam and foam applicators, only a quarter said they had access to oil spill containment booms.
The draft environmental impact statement from the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council said that BNSF would bring four oil trains a day to the Vancouver Energy facility at the Port of Vancouver, Wash., with the loaded trains mostly following the path of the Columbia River and the empty trains returning east via Tacoma, Auburn and Stampede Pass.
With those four daily trains, carrying 100 or more cars each of either light crude from North Dakota or diluted heavy crude from western Canada, the agency forecast “a derailment incident might occur once every two years with a loaded train, and once every 20 months with an empty train.”
The document noted, however, that not all derailments would result in a spill.
Tina Barbee, a spokeswoman for Vancouver Energy, said the company was reviewing the document and “will be able to address specific issues and respond to more detailed questions over the coming weeks.”
Courtney Wallace, a spokeswoman for BNSF, said the railroad had trained 800 firefighters in Washington state this year, and that included giving them the location of BNSF’s specialized firefighting resources.
She said BNSF has equipment and personnel staged in Everett, Seattle, Longview, Wishram, Pasco and Spokane.
“We will continue to work with first responders to ensure they have information about BNSF’s resources,” Wallace said.
EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE
There have been seven derailments of oil trains in North America this year that have resulted in spills or fires. Though none of those events took place in Washington state, derailments in West Virginia, Illinois, North Dakota and Montana released hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil.
The rail spill analysis portion of the Washington state draft document was written in part by three consultants who are former employees of BNSF and its predecessor, Burlington Northern. In addition to the state agency for which they prepared the analysis, their clients include BNSF and the Port of Vancouver.
Neither the state agency, nor its consultants could be reached to comment late Tuesday.
Wallace, the BNSF spokeswoman, said she knew of no work or input from the railroad on the rail spill analysis.
Repost from Salon.com [Editor: Significant quote: “To Bill Gates’ credit he got the equation partly right, when he said that ‘the solution is investment’ in clean energy – a statement he backed up by committing to invest $2 billion in clean energy. However…” – RS]
Bill Gates gives Exxon cover: The Gates Foundation is deadly wrong on climate change, fossil fuels
When Exxon shares your view, time to reconsider. Bill Gates has divestment, clean energy and fossil fuels wrong
By Alex Lenferna, Nov 7, 2015 08:59 AM PST
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s wealthiest charitable foundation, has been under an unprecedented amount of scrutiny regarding their investments in the fossil fuel industry lately.
Activists (and kayaktivists alike) were quick to point out the flaws in Gates’ argument and to highlight that by not divesting Gates is supporting the very industries that are lobbying against climate progress and whose business models are deeply out of line with averting the climate crisis. A disconcerting example of this came when Exxon Mobil endorsed Bill Gates’ view. They did so, furthermore, as part of an article attempting to deny their culpability for intentionally misleading the public about the reality of human-caused climate change, and by extension the risks of its product. Like Big Tobacco before them, Exxon are facing calls for federal investigation under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by no less than Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and more. In order to try and vindicate themselves and justify their deeply problematic position on climate change, Exxon turned to Gates’ views as support.
Thus, while the Gates Foundation has, of course, done much good work, such a response to divestment and framing of the climate change issue should lead us to question the intentions and motivations behind Bill Gates, the Foundation and its leaders.
To Bill Gates’ credit he got the equation partly right, when he said that “the solution is investment” in clean energy – a statement he backed up by committing to invest $2 billion in clean energy. However, clean energy investments are only part of the equation; if we are to solve climate change, we also need to wind down investments in the fossil fuel industry and related infrastructure, while breaking the fossil fuel industry’s corrupting stranglehold on politics so that we can unlock the sorts of policies, societal changes and investments needed to tackle the climate crisis.
While Gates claims that divestment is a “false solution” that “won’t emit less carbon” and that there is no “direct path between divesting and solving climate change,” the 2° Investing Initiative (and the International Energy Agency) point out that “divesting from fossil fuels is an integral piece to aligning the financial sector with a 2°C climate scenario,” with reductions in fossil fuel investments of $4.9 trillion and additional divestment away from fossil-fueled power transmission and distribution of $1.2 trillion needed by 2035 if we are to achieve the internationally agreed upon 2°C target.
It seems that even Peabody, the largest private-sector coal company in the world, has a more enlightened view on divestment than Bill Gates. Peabody have recognized that by shifting perceptions around fossil fuels and spurring on legislation, divestment efforts “could significantly affect demand for [their] products and securities.” Peabody’s conclusion aligns closely with that of the researchers at Oxford University’s Stranded Assets Program, whose influential report on divestment illustrates that the political and social power that divestment builds through stigmatizing the fossil fuel industry could also “indirectly influence all investors… to go underweight on fossil fuel stocks and debt in their portfolios.”
Contradicting Bill Gates’ claim that divestment “won’t emit less carbon,” the “radical” environmentalists over at HSBC bank recently issued a research report showing that divestment could lead to less fossil fuel production and less carbon emissions. According to HSBC, divestment could help “extend the carbon budget” by creating “less demand for shares and bonds, [which] ultimately increases the cost of capital to companies and limits the ability to finance expensive projects, which is particularly damaging in a sector where projects are inherently long term.”
The “Miracle” of Clean Energy
Gates also provided a misleading assessment of the economics of the clean energy transition (seemingly out of the pages of a fossil fuel industry misinformation handbook or his favored climate contrarian adviser Bjorn Lomborg). Gates claimed that the only way current technology could reduce global emissions is at “beyond astronomical cost,” such that a “miracle” on the level of the invention of the automobile was necessary to avoid a climate catastrophe.