Category Archives: Earthjustice

U.S. Sued Over Refusal to Ban Older Rail Cars for Crude

Repost from Bloomberg News
[Editor: See also the Earthjustice press release, “Groups Bring New Legal Action for Federal Ban of Dangerous Oil Tank Rail Cars”.  Here is the December 2 Petition.   Here is the original July 15 Petition.  – RS]

U.S. Sued Over Refusal to Ban Older Rail Cars for Crude

By Andrew Zajac, Dec 2, 2014
Crude by Rail California
A train with DOT-111 tanker cars. Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

Earthjustice and other environmental groups asked a federal court to force the U.S. Transportation Department to reconsider its rejection of an immediate ban on the use of rail tank cars lacking updated safety features for shipping Bakken crude oil.

The tank cars’ safety was questioned after a July 2013 explosion that killed 47 people when an unattended, runaway train hauling 72 carloads of Bakken crude derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

The transportation department is managing tank car safety issues through a series of directives, short of a ban, and rules are being drafted to phase out the older rolling stock, the agency said in November, declining the groups’ request for an emergency ban.

That response fails to consider the risks posed by the cars, including “past findings that the surge in crude-by-rail shipments of Bakken crude in dangerous tank cars poses imminent hazards and emergency unsafe conditions,” according to the complaint, filed today in federal appeals court in San Francisco.

The rail vessels in question are older models, collectively referred to as DOT-111 tank cars, that lack safeguards needed to improve crashworthiness, according the environmentalists’ original request for a ban, filed in July.

Oil from the Bakken shale region of North Dakota tends to be more volatile and flammable than other crude, according to a Transportation Department study released in July.

Production of Bakken crude is soaring beyond the capacity of pipelines, leading to an increased use of trains.

The Sierra Club and ForestEthics joined Earthjustice in the lawsuit.

The case is Sierra Club v. U.S. Department of Transportation, 14-73682, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, (San Francisco).

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    Facing lawsuit, California oil train terminal to shut down

    Repost from The News & Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina
    [Editor: See also a similar report on AllGOV.com.  – RS]

    Facing lawsuit, California oil train terminal to shut down

    By Curtis Tate and Tony Bizjak, McClatchy Washington BureauOctober 23, 2014
    US NEWS RAILSAFETY-CA 2 SA
    A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil on railroad tracks in McClellan Park in North Highlands on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. RANDALL BENTON — MCT

    — A legal victory in California this week over crude oil operations could have a spillover effect, emboldening critics of crude-by-rail shipments to press their concerns in other jurisdictions.

    EarthJustice, a San Francisco-based environmental group, won its battle to halt crude oil train operations in the state as InterState Oil Co., a Sacramento fuel distributor, agreed to stop unloading train shipments of crude oil next month at the former McClellan Air Force Base.

    Sacramento County’s top air quality official said his agency mistakenly skirted the state’s environmental rules by issuing a permit for the operation.

    EarthJustice contended the Sacramento air quality district should not have granted InterState a permit to transfer crude oil from trains to tanker trucks bound for Bay Area oil refineries without a full environmental impact review.

    The court reversal in California could bolster efforts by environmental groups to slow or stop crude-by-rail projects elsewhere, particularly in Washington state. A proposed terminal in Vancouver, Wash., would transfer oil from trains to tanker ships that could supply California refineries.

    Patti Goldman, a managing attorney in the Seattle office of EarthJustice, said the decision sounded “a wake-up call” for permitting authorities to consider community input.

    “We have been seeing local authorities blindly approve crude-by-rail projects without being open with the public and without considering the full effects,” she said.

    The McClellan operation is relatively small compared with crude oil train terminals proposed elsewhere in California. One, in southwestern Kern County in the southern Central Valley, will be able to receive one 100-car train full of of crude oil each day. The McClellan facility was permitted to unload a similar amount once every two weeks.

    The Kern facility, which could begin operating this month, was already zoned for transfer operations, and required no new environmental reviews or public comments.

    In September, the Kern County Board of Supervisors approved a separate facility at a Bakersfield refinery that could receive two trains a day. EarthJustice sued the board earlier this month, contending that Kern’s environmental review was inadequate.

    Environmental groups lost a legal fight in the Bay Area city of Richmond, where a terminal operated by pipeline company Kinder Morgan, the largest midstream – the shipping and storage of oil – energy company, unloads crude oil from trains to trucks that take it to local refineries. A judge rejected the lawsuit in September, ruling that the six-month statute of limitations had expired.

    A McClatchy story in March revealed the existence of the McClellan operation to the surprise of local officials. State emergency officials and fire departments have said they don’t feel prepared to handle a major explosion or spill from a derailment.

    Some of the crude unloaded at McClellan may have originated in North Dakota’s Bakken region. That type of oil, extracted through hydraulic fracturing, has been under increased scrutiny since a July 2013 derailment killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

    That accident and a series of fiery derailments since then have prompted the rail industry and its federal regulators to take steps to improve track conditions and operating practices. A stronger construction standard for tank cars used to ship flammable liquids is being finalized by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

    The California Energy Commission projects that the state could receive as much as a quarter of its petroleum supply by rail in the next two years.

    Earlier this month, BNSF Railway and Union Pacific sued California over a state law that requires railroads to develop oil spill prevention and response plans. The railroads argue that only the federal government has the power to regulate them.

    Bizjak, of The Sacramento Bee, reported from Sacramento, Calif.
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      Central Valley Business Times: Oil company abandons plans to handle Bakken crude in Sacramento

      Repost from Central Valley Business Times

      Oil company abandons plans to handle Bakken crude in Sacramento

      SACRAMENTO, October 22, 2014

      •  Cites lawsuit filed by environmentalists
      •  “This is a victory for the health and safety of the people of Sacramento”

      InterState Oil Company says it is surrendering its air pollution permit that lets it transfer highly volatile Bakken crude oil from railcars to trucks at its transloading facility located at 4545 Dudley Boulevard in the McClellan industrial park in Sacramento.

      The decision comes a month after Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sierra Club challenging the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District for issuing permits allowing the project without public or environmental review.

      Now the air agency says the permit was “issued in error because it failed to meet District Best Available Control Technology requirements.”

      The agency and the company have agreed that the transfers will stop by Nov. 14.

      “This is the first crude transport project that has been stopped dead in its tracks in California,” says Suma Peesapati, Earthjustice attorney. “This is a victory for the health and safety of the people of Sacramento, for communities along the path of the trucks hauling this dangerous product to the Bay Area, and for the refinery communities where the crude is eventually processed.”

      Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club on Sept. 23, holding the air district and InterState Oil accountable for neglecting to consider the risk to public health and safety of the project. The lawsuit also challenged the air district for deliberately avoiding its obligations for review under the California Environmental Quality Act despite the fact that the project would have significant increases in air pollutants, including toxic air contaminants.

      The air district first issued a permit to InterState to trans-load crude from rail to truck on March 27, however according to an investigation by the Sacramento Bee, the company had been trans-loading crude without a permit as early as six months before that date. No notice was given to local fire and emergency responders or other officials about the handling of the highly flammable substance just seven miles north of the California state capital.

      “This is a huge victory for Sacramento residents and communities across California who are put in harms way by trains carrying volatile, hazardous crude that are known to derail and explode,” says Devorah Ancel, Sierra Club staff attorney. “Local, state and federal governments must take further immediate action to notify the public when hazardous crude is railed through their communities and to ban the use of unsafe DOT 111 tank cars.”

      As a result of today’s decision, Sacramento Superior Court is expected to dismiss the lawsuit, Earthjustice says.

      Bakken crude, a type of shale oil, is more volatile than other kinds of crude oil. It has been blamed for some spectacular — and tragic — accidents, the worst of which was the July 2013 derailment of a train of oil cars carrying Bakken crude in the small Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic. The explosion and fire killed nearly 50 townspeople and leveled more than 30 buildings.

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        Sacramento Bee: Sacramento crude oil transfers halted; air quality official says permit was granted in error

        Repost from The Sacramento Bee

        Sacramento crude oil transfers halted; air quality official says permit was granted in error

        By Tony Bizjak and Curtis Tate, 10/22/2014
        A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil on railroad tracks in McClellan Park in North Highlands in March.
        A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil on railroad tracks in McClellan Park in North Highlands in March. Randall Benton

        A Sacramento fuel distributor has agreed to stop unloading train shipments of crude oil at McClellan Business Park after the county’s top air quality official said his agency mistakenly skirted the state’s environmental rules by issuing a permit for the operation.

        InterState Oil Co. said in a letter Wednesday to the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality District that as of Nov. 7 it will no longer use McClellan as a transfer station for crude oil shipments to the Bay Area.

        The move settles a lawsuit filed in September by EarthJustice, a San Francisco-based environmental group, that contended the Sacramento air quality district should not have granted InterState Oil a permit to transfer crude oil from trains to tanker trucks bound for Bay Area oil refineries without a full environmental impact review.

        Air district head Larry Greene now says a full review was, in fact, required by the California Environmental Quality Act.

        “We made an error when the permit was developed, and it should have gone to full CEQA review,” Greene said Wednesday. “We have notified (InterState) and the environmental group to that effect. InterState is voluntarily giving that permit back.”

        Greene said InterState will continue other transfer operations at its McClellan site, including transfers of ethanol.

        It is unclear whether the company will apply for a new permit to load crude oil. Its representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

        A lawyer for EarthJustice called this a major victory in the group’s fight against potentially unsafe oil shipments.

        “It signals that industry and government may not benefit from a lack of transparency and play dice with lives of people who live along the paths of these dangerous oil trains,” attorney Suma Peesapati said. “This is the first crude transfer project that has been stopped dead in its tracks in California.”

        The reversal by the Sacramento air quality district could bolster efforts by environmental groups to slow or stop crude oil projects on rail lines elsewhere, particularly in Washington state. A proposed terminal in Vancouver, Wash., would transfer oil from trains to tanker ships that could supply California refineries.

        Patti Goldman, a managing attorney in the Seattle office of EarthJustice, said the decision sounded “a wake-up call” for permitting authorities to consider community input.

        “We have been seeing local authorities blindly approve crude-by-rail projects without being open with the public and without considering the full effects,” she said.

        The McClellan operation is relatively small compared with the kind of crude oil train terminals now proposed elsewhere in California. One, in southwestern Kern County in the southern Central Valley, will be able to receive one 100-car train full of of crude oil each day; the McClellan facility was permitted to unload a similar amount once every two weeks.

        The Kern facility, which could begin operating this month, was already zoned for transfer operations, and required no new environmental reviews or public comments.

        In September, the Kern County Board of Supervisors approved a separate facility at a Bakersfield refinery that could receive two trains a day. EarthJustice sued the board earlier this month, contending that Kern’s environmental review was inadequate.

        Environmental groups lost a legal fight in the Bay Area city of Richmond, where a terminal operated by pipeline company Kinder Morgan unloads crude oil from trains to trucks that take it to local refineries. A judge rejected the lawsuit in September, ruling that the six-month statute of limitations had expired. That project involves 100-car oil trains that come through midtown Sacramento.

        Another proposed oil-train terminal at the Phillips 66 refinery in Santa Maria could mean even more of the cargo passing through Sacramento.

        A Sacramento Bee story in March revealed the existence of the McClellan operation to a number of surprised local officials, including the head of the county Office of Emergency Management and the chiefs of the Sacramento city and Metropolitan fire departments. It noted that InterState began handling crude oil last year without obtaining a permit.

        Some of the crude unloaded at McClellan may have originated in North Dakota’s Bakken region. That type of oil, extracted through hydraulic fracturing, has been under increased scrutiny since a July 2013 derailment killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

        That accident and a series of fiery derailments since then have prompted the rail industry and its federal regulators to take steps to improve track conditions and operating practices. A stronger construction standard for tank cars used to ship flammable liquids is being finalized by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

        The California Energy Commission projects that the state could receive more than 20percent of its petroleum supply by rail in the next two years. State emergency officials and fire departments have said they don’t feel they are prepared to handle a major explosion from a derailment.

        Earlier this month, BNSF Railway and Union Pacific sued California over a state law that requires railroads to develop oil spill prevention and response plans. The railroads argue that only the federal government has the power to regulate them.

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