Tag Archives: Washington Governor Jay Inslee

House bill could shield oil train spill response plans from disclosure

Repost from McClatchyDC

House bill could shield oil train spill response plans from disclosure

By Curtis Tate, October 16, 2015
Oil burns at the site of a March 5, 2015, train derailment near Galena, Ill. A bill in Congress would require railroads to have comprehensive oil spill response plans, but would also give the Secretary of Transportation the ability to exempt the details from disclosure. Oil burns at the site of a March 5, 2015, train derailment near Galena, Ill. A bill in Congress would require railroads to have comprehensive oil spill response plans, but would also give the Secretary of Transportation the ability to exempt the details from disclosure. EPA

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Six-year transportation bill includes section on oil trains
  • Obama administration supports public notifications of oil spills, etc.
  • Future transportation secretary could be empowered to protect data

WASHINGTON – A House of Representatives bill unveiled Friday could make it more difficult for the public to know how prepared railroads are for responding to oil spills from trains, their worst-case scenarios and how much oil is being transported by rail through communities.

The language appears in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s six-year transportation legislation, which primarily addresses federal programs that support state road, bridge and transit projects. But the legislation also includes a section on oil trains.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is working on a rule to require railroads shipping oil to develop comprehensive spill response plans along the lines of those required for pipelines and waterborne vessels. It would also require them to assess their worst-case scenarios for oil spills, including quantity and location.

The House bill would give the secretary of transportation the power to decide what information would not be disclosed to the public.

The secretary would have discretion to withhold anything proprietary or security sensitive, as well as “specific response resources and tactical resource deployment plans” and “the specific amount and location of worst-case discharges, including the process by which a railroad carrier determines the worst-case discharge.”

The House bill defines “worst-case discharge” as the largest foreseeable release of oil in an accident or incident, as determined by the rail carrier.

Four major oil train derailments have occurred in the U.S. since the beginning of the year, resulting in the release of more than 600,000 gallons, according to federal spill data.

Numerous states have released information on crude by rail shipments to McClatchy and other news organizations. DOT began requiring railroads to notify state officials of such shipments last year after a train derailed and caught fire in Lynchburg, Va.

The disclosures were opposed by railroads and their trade associations, which asked the department to drop the requirement. The department tried to accommodate the industry’s concerns in its May final rule on oil train safety by making the reports exempt from disclosure. But facing backlash from lawmakers and emergency response groups, the department reversed itself.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, and Sarah Feinberg, the acting chief of the Federal Railroad Administration, said the department would continue the disclosure requirement and make it permanent. But a new administration could take a different approach.

“We strongly support transparency and public notification to the fullest extent possible,” Feinberg said in July.

In May, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that would require railroads operating in the state to plan for their worst-case spills.

In April, BNSF Railway told state emergency responders that the company currently considers 150,000 gallons of crude oil, enough to fill five rail tank cars, its worst-case scenario when planning for spills into waterways. A typical 100-car oil train carries about 3 million gallons.

Washington state requires marine ships that transport oil to plan for a spill of the entire cargo.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency conducted a mock derailment in New Jersey in March in which 450,000 gallons of oil was released.

California passed a similar bill last year, but two railroads and a major trade association challenged it in court, claiming the federal laws regulating railroads preempted state laws. A judge sided with the state in June, but without addressing the preemption question.

The House Transportation Committee will consider the six-year bill when lawmakers return from recess next week. The current legislation expires on Oct. 29, and the timing makes a short-term extension likely.

After the committee and the full House vote on the bill, House and Senate leaders will have to work out their differences before the bill goes to the president’s desk.

Samantha Wohlfeil of the Bellingham (Wash.) Herald contributed.
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    Washington Gov. Inslee: Make polluters pay for transportation projects

    Repost from The Seattle Times
    [Editor: For details, see the Governor’s website: Inslee announces slate of proposals to curb pollution, transition Washington to cleaner sources of energy.  This week saw dramatic action on the part of two US governors.  See also NY Gov. Cuomo bans fracking.  – RS]

    Gov. Jay Inslee proposes a 12-year, $12 billion transportation plan, saying fees on the state’s biggest polluters will help fund improvements.

    By Mike Lindblom, Dec. 16, 2014

     Work continues on the Highway 520 bridge project, looking west toward Seattle from Medina. The new bridge is expected to be done in spring 2016; the existing bridge will be removed. The governor’s proposal includes $1.4 billion to extend a new six-lane 520 to Interstate 5.
    Work continues on the Highway 520 bridge project, looking west toward Seattle from Medina. The new bridge is expected to be done in spring 2016; the existing bridge will be removed. The governor’s proposal includes $1.4 billion to extend a new six-lane 520 to Interstate 5. | Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times

    After two years of watching gas-tax increases tank in the Legislature, Gov. Jay Inslee proposed Tuesday to take a new approach: Charge major polluters for the right to emit carbon.

    Inslee’s plan, featuring a “cap-and-trade” system, would generate $400 million a year, he said, to cover nearly 40 percent of his $12 billion, 12-year transportation improvement plan. The remainder would come from bond debt, existing gas taxes, tolls and an assortment of vehicle fees.

    The new six-lane Highway 520 bridge would be completed all the way to Interstate 5, using $1.4 billion, while the state would abandon the idea of tolling the I-90 Mercer Island floating bridge. An additional $1.3 billion would widen Interstate 405 from Bellevue to Renton.

    Several projects have been on the drawing board for years, and even failed in a regional ballot in 2007.

    Ferry riders would see a two-year freeze in fares, while a fourth ferry would be built to join the new Tokitae and two others under construction.

    “We can clean our air and water at the same time we are fixing our air and our roads,” Inslee said in Medina, overlooking the 520 construction site. “It is indeed a twofer.”

    MORE . . .

     

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      National Round-up: Calls to Ban Bomb Trains Ramp Up While Communities Await New Regulations

      Repost from DeSmogBlog

      Calls to Ban Bomb Trains Ramp Up While Communities Await New Regulations

      By Justin Mikulka, 2014-12-15
      ban bomb trains

      Earthjustice has challenged the Department of Transportation’s denial of a petition by Sierra Club and Forest Ethics to ban the transportation of Bakken crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars.

      Most of the explosive crude oil on U.S. rails is moving in tanker cars that are almost guaranteed to fail in an accident,” explained Patti Goldman of Earthjustice.

      The risks are too great to keep shipping explosive Bakken crude in defective DOT-111s. The National Transportation Safety Board called them unsafe two decades ago, and by the Department of Transportation’s own estimates, the U.S. could see 15 rail accidents every year involving these cars until we get them off the tracks.”

      At the same time Earthjustice was bringing this challenge, the Canadian government was announcing that it will ban 3,000 of the riskiest DOT-111s from carrying materials like Bakken crude.

      And in California, where last week a train carrying grain derailed into the Feather River, democratic state senator Jerry Hill called on Governor Jerry Brown to impose a moratorium on oil trains in the state. The Feather River rail line is also used for Bakken crude oil trains.

      In Toronto, the new mayor called for an end to these dangerous trains passing through the city.

      I said during the campaign and I’ll repeat it now, that I think we should be moving in the direction, in negotiation with the railways and the federal government, to stop movement of toxic and dangerous substances through the city at all,” reported The Star.

      Perhaps the fact that the new mayor isn’t smoking crack like his predecessor has something to do with this rather clear-headed assessment. You would, after all, have to be on crack to think running DOT-111s filled with Bakken crude through highly populated areas was an acceptable practice.

      Meanwhile in Baltimore, residents are fighting a new proposal for an oil-by-rail facility that would bring these trains right through their neighborhoods.

      In addition to calls for outright bans of the DOT-111s, two states recently released new studies about the oil train issue.

      In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo is looking for ways to fund the oil spill clean up fund for the state. The fund is projected to be in the red financially by 2016 and currently collects no fees from the oil companies transporting the Bakken and tar sands oil through the state. As many as 44 oil trains carrying at least 1,000,000 gallons of oil, and often more than 3,000,000 gallons, cross New York each week.

      Cuomo criticized the federal government’s lack of movement on new oil-by-rail regulations referring to their progress as “unacceptably slow” according to The Record Online.

      Over the past six months, our administration has taken swift and decisive action to increase the state’s preparedness and better protect New Yorkers from the possibility of a crude oil disaster,” Cuomo said. “Now it is time for our federal partners to do the same.”

      Cuomo’s self-assessment of New York’s actions didn’t impress oil train activists. Sandy Steubing of Albany, NY, based group PAUSE isn’t pleased with the state’s progress.

      “The Governor’s response is lame; he’s either urging other entities like the railroad and the Federal government to protect New Yorkers or he’s trying to appear like the measures he’s taking will protect us,” Steubing said. “There’s not enough foam in the entire state to protect us from an explosive derailment the likes of which we’ve seen five times since July of 2013.”

      Meanwhile in Washington State, the draft of the 500-page 2014 Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study was released. The report contains some staggering growth projections for oil-by-rail transportation in the state, as reported by The News Tribune.

      The Department of Ecology’s report estimates that 12.7 billion gallons of oil were moved through the state by rail in 2013 alone and says 19 trains of roughly 100 tank cars each are passing through the state each week today. It predicts that traffic could mushroom to 137 weekly trains by 2020 if all proposed oil terminals and refinery expansion projects are permitted and utilized.

      Facing this onslaught of oil-by-rail traffic for the state, Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee is proposing a new tax on oil transported through the state by rail.

      In North Dakota, the birthplace of the modern oil-by-rail industry, meaningless new rail regulations will keep the bomb trains rolling. There is also a legal battle going on between the town of Enderlin and the rail operator Canadian Pacific. Canadian Pacific moves as many as 28 trains through Enderlin every day. Many stop and block roads and traffic in Enderlin causing traffic delays one would expect in Los Angeles but not in a town of 900 people in North Dakota.

      In response, the town council made it illegal for trains to stop for more than 10 minutes in town. Now the town is being sued by Canadian Pacific. Unfortunately for the residents of Enderlin, Canadian Pacific has a strong argument that many municipalities are learning about now that they have become the home to oil train operations.

      Kansas interstate commerce attorney Bob Pottroff explained the reality to Reuters, “Right now cities don’t have the right to tell a railroad it can’t park in the middle of their town.” If Enderlin were to win, Pottroff predicted the result could have far reaching effects as other municipalities opted to take some level of control over rail traffic within their borders.

      In the face of this widespread opposition to the dangers posed by the oil-by-rail industry, there just happens to be a new industry-funded study showing that no new regulations are warranted.

      The Railway Supply Institute funded a report prepared by The Brattle Group that concludes that all of the proposed regulations may have benefits but in every case they have found that the costs outweigh these benefits. In addition to this conclusion, Natural Gas Intelligence reports that The Brattle Group proposes one of the other favorite industry tactics for delaying new regulations. More research.

      As communities across the country await new oil-by-rail regulations and continue to hear about close calls regarding oil train accidents the level of opposition to the dangers of transporting explosive oil in DOT-111s continues to grow. Unfortunately for them, the lobbyists for Big Oil and Big Rail are still hard at work protecting their profits above all else.

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        Washington Governor Inslee says state will act on oil trains

        Repost from The Olympian, Olympia Washington

        Inslee says state will act on oil trains

        By Andy Hobbs, November 21, 2014
        Representatives from Washington and Oregon gather at Olympia City Hall for the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance summit on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. TONY OVERMAN

        The number of oil trains running across Washington is unacceptable, and the Legislature will consider bills in the upcoming session that mandate advance notification of oil shipments by rail as well as more funding for railroad crossings and emergency response training, Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday.

        King County Executive Dow Constantine added that oil companies are raking in profits while “the rest of us are picking up the costs.”

        “Those who are profiting should shoulder the financial burden,” Constantine said.

        They were speaking to the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance that met Friday at Olympia City Hall to address the surge of oil and coal trains passing through Washington.

        The alliance is a coalition of local, state and tribal leaders from the Northwest who say the trains threaten the environment, economy and public safety.

        As shipments of oil increase in the Puget Sound region, so does the likelihood for spills and accidents. The Department of Ecology reports that 19 fully loaded oil trains crisscross the state every week, with the number expected to reach 59 oil trains if current refinery proposals are approved. Each train hauls about 3 million gallons of crude oil in 100 tanker cars. Between 11 and 16 trains pass through rural and suburban areas of Thurston and Pierce counties every week, according to reports from BNSF Railway.

        Participants in Friday’s meeting included elected officials from across the state along with Oregon and Canada.

        “It is clear that we have to take significant action including being better prepared to handle an oil train explosion or large scale spill,” Inslee said.

        Although the federal government is the main regulator of the railroads, Inslee said there are some actions the state can take now, such as lowering speed limits of the trains.

        “We don’t want vehicles speeding through school zones, and we shouldn’t let oil trains speed through Washington cities,” said Inslee, noting that changes in state permits are at least a year away.

        Friday’s meeting included a detailed report on the coal industry by Tom Sanzillo, finance director of the Institute for Energy Economic and Financial Analysis. Sanzillo encouraged states and cities to keep putting pressure on the coal industry, which has seen demand and prices decline worldwide in the past few years.

        “The U.S. coal industry is shrinking,” said Sanzillo, adding that the industry needs “robust growth” to meet its potential and compete in the global market despite record demand for coal by nations like China. “Hooking your wagon to the coal industry is not a particularly promising outlook right now.”

        At the local level, Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said the City Council will seek a resolution next week to add Olympia to the list of cities that oppose the increase in crude oil transport.

        “We are at a crossroads,” Buxbaum said Friday. “We could see up to 60 trains a day and 4,000 supertankers in our waters.”

        As for the coal issue, Buxbaum recently co-authored a guest column titled “You might be surprised by Puget Sound Energy’s coal power supply” that ran Nov. 19 in The Seattle Times. Also signing the article were Bainbridge Island Mayor Anne Blair and Mercer Island Mayor Bruce Bassett, and all three mayors’ respective city councils endorsed it.

        The article urges Puget Sound Energy to take immediate action and plan for a “post-coal future.” About one-third of PSE’s power supply comes from coal that’s shipped from out of state, according to the article. The mayors also cite Gov. Inslee’s recent executive order to reduce pollution and transition away from coal power.

        “The bottom line is that we don’t need coal,” the article states. “The potential is there for Washington to meet its energy needs with efficiency programs, wind, solar and other technologies. We just need to rise to the occasion.”

         

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