Category Archives: Schools

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.”


Oil trains and schools don’t mix

Repost from The Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY
[Editor: See also Danger 101: Oil trains pass near Rockland schools and Groups say oil tanker cars on trains put Mid-Hudson communities, schools, infrastructure at risk.  – RS]

Oil and schools don’t mix, enviro groups say

Steve Orr, November 20, 2014
Oil train Pittsford
A train of crude-oil tank cars passing through the village of Pittsford | (Photo: Steve Orr, Democrat and Chronicle)

About 350 New York state schools, including at least 63 in Monroe County, lie within a mile of railroad tracks used by trains carrying volatile crude oil, a coalition of environmental and other advocacy groups said Thursday.

The groups urged state and federal official to bolster emergency planning at those educational facilities and to require crude-oil trains to travel more slowly near schools.

“We are deeply concerned about the growing number of crude oil rail cars passing through the Hudson Valley and across New York State every day,” said Claire Barnett, executive director of the Albany-based Health Schools Network. “A catastrophic event, should it happen near an occupied school, could devastate a community for a generation or more.”

The good news locally is that districts in Monroe County near CSX Transportation’s two freight-rail corridors say they have emergency plans in place and are prepared to shelter or evacuate in the event that became necessary.

“I’m impressed with what our county schools are doing – on paper. I really am. It sounds fantastic,” said Judy Braiman of Empire State Consumer Project, one of several groups that helped with the report released Thursday.

School officials told Braiman they had fully developed emergency-evacuation plans, and staff in the affected schools were tutored in those plans. Braiman said, though, she could not be sure if that was true of every school. “My only question is, did it get down to the level of the teachers, the parents and the children?” she said.

Rail shipment of crude oil has become a hot-button topic around the country since a surge in shipments from shale-oil fields in the northern Plains. CSX has said 20 to 35 oil trains traverse upstate New York each week, headed for Albany and from there to East Coast refineries.

The shipments raise concern because this particular crude oil is highly volatile. Several oil trains have derailed and caught fire; most tragically, a train rolled downhill out of control and derailed in Lac-Megantic in July 2013, exploding into a huge conflagration that killed 47 people and destroyed several blocks of the small Canadian city’s downtown.

Federal officials say locations within a half-mile of a derailment site should be prepared to evacuate in event of a serious accident, and everyone within a mile could be in danger.

Twenty-six of the 63 Monroe County schools noted by the environment groups are within a half-mile of the tracks, according to data the groups released. Included were schools in the Churchville-Chili, Gates-Chili, Rochester, Penfield, Pittsford, East Rochester and Fairport districts. Several religious-affiliated and charter schools were included as well.

All 63 Monroe schools noted by the groups are near the CSX mainline tracks that run through the city of Rochester and adjoining suburbs. As the Democrat and Chronicle has reported, however, there is evidence that CSX prefers to route oil trains on a separate track that runs through Monroe County’s southern suburbs.

At least four schools located near those tracks are omitted from group’s list and maps, though Braiman said she did contact districts in which those schools are located.

Potentially explosive trains rolling past 55 schools along a 60 mile stretch in NY and NJ

Repost from WABC TV7 Eyewitness News, New York, NY
[Editor: Trains actually pass right UNDER one school.  A shocking video and excellent investigative reporting.  Someone really should research and list the schools (and other vital structures) along the Union Pacific tracks proposed as the route for Valero Benicia crude-by-rail.
UPDATE, Nov. 1, 2014 – Note previous NRDC study on this issue in California, especially p. 3 of It Could Happen Here, The Exploding Threat of Crude by Rail in California, which lists the number of schools.  More detailed mapping is available on the NRDC’s Risk Zone Maps.  – RS] 

The Investigators: Potentially explosive trains rolling through New York, New Jersey neighborhoods

By Jim Hoffer, October 31, 2014