Category Archives: U.S. Department of Transportation

AP: Trump administration miscalculated benefit of better train brakes

Repost from The Associated Press

APNewsBreak: US miscalculated benefit of better train brakes

By Matthew Brown, December 20, 2018
FILE- In this Nov. 8, 2013 file photo, a tanker carrying crude oil burns after derailing in western Alabama outside Aliceville, Ala. The Trump admiinistration vastly understated the potential benefits of installing mmore advanceed brakes on trains that haul explosive fuels when it cancelled a requirement for railroads to begin using the equipment. A government analysis used by the administration to justify the cancellation omitted up to $117 illion in potential reduced damages from using electronic brakes. Department of Transportation officials acknnowledged the error after it was discovered by The Associated Press during a review of federal documents but said it would not have changed their decision. (Bill Castle/ABC 33/40 via AP, File)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — President Donald Trump’s administration miscalculated the potential benefits of putting better brakes on trains that haul explosive fuels when it scrapped an Obama-era rule over cost concerns, The Associated Press has found.

A government analysis used to justify the cancellation omitted up to $117 million in estimated future damages from train derailments that could be avoided by using electronic brakes. Revelation of the error stoked renewed criticism Thursday from the rule’s supporters, who called the analysis biased.

Department of Transportation officials acknowledged the mistake after it was discovered by the AP during a review of federal documents. They said a correction will be published to the federal register.

But transportation spokesman Bobby Fraser said the decision not to require the brakes would stand under a Congressional act that said the costs couldn’t exceed the rule’s benefits.

“This was an unintentional error,” Fraser. “With the correction, in all scenarios costs still outweigh benefits.”

Safety advocates, transportation union leaders and Democratic lawmakers oppose the administration’s decision to kill the brake rule, which was included in a package of rail safety measures enacted in 2015 under President Barack Obama following dozens of accidents by trains hauling oil and ethanol in the U.S. and Canada.

The deadliest happened in Canada in 2013, when an unattended train carrying crude oil rolled down an incline, came off the tracks in the town of Lac-Megantic and exploded into a massive ball of fire, killing 47 people and obliterating much of the Quebec community’s downtown.

There have been other fiery crashes and fuel spills in Alabama, Oregon, Montana, Virginia, West Virginia, North Dakota, Illinois and elsewhere.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley said the administration should reconsider the brake rule in light of its miscalculation.

“The omission of $117 million from the rule’s anticipated benefits is further proof that the Trump administration is willing to cut corners to put industry profits ahead of the American people’s safety,” said Merkley, a Democrat. He called for “a new cost-benefit analysis that is full and transparent.”

After the brake rule was enacted, lobbyists for the railroad and oil industries pushed to cancel it, citing the high cost of installing so-called electronic pneumatic brakes and questioning their effectiveness.

But supporters of the brakes said the issue should be reconsidered given the miscalculation and concerns about other benefits that may have been ignored, including reducing the frequency of runaway trains and severity of train-on-train collisions, said Robert Duff, a senior adviser to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat.

“This is not theoretical risk. We’ve actually seen these derailments,” Duff said.

Unlike other systems where brakes are applied sequentially along the length of a train, electronic pneumatic brakes, or ECP, work on all cars simultaneously. That can reduce the distance and time a train needs to stop and cause fewer cars to derail.

“These ECP brakes are very important for oil trains,” said Steven Ditmeyer, a rail safety expert and former senior official at the Federal Railroad Administration. “It makes a great deal of sense: All the brakes get applied immediately, and there would be fewer cars in the pileup.”

Under Obama, the Transportation Department determined the brakes would cost up to $664 million over 20 years and save between $470 million and $1.1 billion from accidents that would be avoided.

The Trump administration reduced the range of benefits to between $131 million and $374 million.

Transportation Department economists said in their analysis that the change was prompted in part by a reduction in oil train traffic in recent years. Even as ethanol shipments on U.S. railroads have continued to grow, reaching about 500,000 carloads annually, crude shipments peaked in 2014 and fell to about 200,000 carloads last year.

But in making their cost-benefit calculations, government economists left out the most common type of derailments in which spilled and burning fuel causes property damage but no mass casualties, the AP found. Equipping fuel trains with electronic brakes would reduce damages from those derailments by an estimated $48 million to $117 million, according to Department of Transportation estimates that were left out of the administration’s final tally.

Including the omitted benefits reduces the net cost of the requirement to as low as $63 million under one scenario laid out by the agency. Other scenarios put the net cost at more than $200 million.

Transportation spokesman Fraser said that would not have changed September’s decision to cancel the electronic brake requirement because of the cost.

The Association of American Railroads declined comment on the agency’s cost benefit calculations. Spokeswoman Jessica Kahanek said the move to rescind the Obama rule was in line with the requirements set forth by Congress, which passed a 2015 measure saying the Department of Transportation must repeal the braking requirement if expected costs exceed benefits.

The biggest share of oil now moved by rail goes from the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota and Montana to the West Coast, where fears of an accident were realized two years ago when 16 tank cars carrying Bakken oil derailed, igniting a fire that burned for 14 hours along the banks of the Columbia River near Mosier, Oregon.

The accident was caused by track problems. An investigation by the Federal Railroad Administration concluded electronic brakes would have made it less severe.

John Risch, national legislative director for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, said electronic brakes also would have prevented the deaths at Lac-Megantic.

He added that the omission of benefits from the government’s findings further tilted a study that was otherwise flawed.

“It flies in the face of earlier, much more comprehensive studies,” Risch said. “We are using a 120-year-old technology with mechanical brakes. They’ve come to the peak of what you can do with them.”

 

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    Why California gets to write its own auto emissions standards: 5 questions answered

    Repost from LEGALPLANET.org – BerkeleyLaw / UCLA LAW

    Why California gets to write its own auto emissions standards: 5 questions answered

    Authored by Nicholas Bryner and Meredith Hankins, Posted on April 6, 2018 10:02 am by Nick Bryner
    Rush hour on the Hollywood Freeway, Los Angeles, September 9, 2016. AP Photo/Richard Vogel

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    Legal Planet editor’s note: On April 2, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the Trump administration plans to revise tailpipe emissions standards negotiated by the Obama administration for motor vehicles built between 2022 and 2025, saying the standards were set “too high.” Pruitt also said the EPA was re-examining California’s historic ability to adopt standards that are more ambitious than the federal government’s. Legal scholars Nicholas Bryner and Meredith Hankins explain why California has this authority – and what may happen if the EPA tries to curb it.

    Where does California get this special authority?

    The Clean Air Act empowers the EPA to regulate air pollution from motor vehicles. To promote uniformity, the law generally bars states from regulating car emissions.

    But when the Clean Air Act was passed, California was already developing innovative laws and standards to address its unique air pollution problems. So Congress carved out an exemption. As long as California’s standards protect public health and welfare at least as strictly as federal law, and are necessary “to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions,” the law requires the EPA to grant California a waiver so it can continue to apply its own regulations. California has received numerous waivers as it has worked to reduce vehicle emissions by enacting ever more stringent standards since the 1960s.

    Other states can’t set their own standards, but they can opt to follow California’s motor vehicle emission regulations. Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia have adopted California’s standards.

    Gov. Ronald Reagan signs legislation establishing the California Air Resources Board to address the state’s air pollution, August 30, 1967. CA ARB
    What are the “compelling and extraordinary conditions” that California’s regulations are designed to address?

    In the 1950s scientists recognized that the unique combination of enclosed topography, a rapidly growing population and a warm climate in the Los Angeles air basin was a recipe for dangerous smog. Dutch chemist Arie Jan Haagen-Smit discovered in 1952 that worsening Los Angeles smog episodes were caused by photochemical reactions between California’s sunshine and nitrogen oxides and unburned hydrocarbons in motor vehicle exhaust.

    California’s Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board issued regulations mandating use of the nation’s first vehicle emissions control technology in 1961, and developed the nation’s first vehicle emissions standards in 1966. Two years later the EPA adopted standards identical to California’s for model year 1968 cars. UCLA Law scholar Ann Carlson calls this pattern, in which California innovates and federal regulators piggyback on the state’s demonstrated success, “iterative federalism.” This process has continued for decades.

    California’s severe air pollution problems have made it a pioneer in air quality research.
    California has set ambitious goals for slowing climate change. Is that part of this dispute with the EPA?

    Yes. Transportation is now the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States. The tailpipe standards that the Obama EPA put in place were designed to limit GHG emissions from cars by improving average fuel efficiency.

    These standards were developed jointly by the EPA, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and California, which have overlapping legal authority to regulate cars. EPA and California have the responsibility to control motor vehicle emissions of air pollutants, including GHGs. DOT is in charge of regulating fuel economy.

    Congress began regulating fuel economy in response to the oil crisis in the 1970s. DOT sets the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard that each auto manufacturer must meet. Under this program, average fuel economy in the United States improved in the late 1970s but stagnated from the 1980s to the early 2000s as customers shifted to purchasing larger vehicles, including SUVs, minivans and trucks.

    In 2007 Congress responded with a new law that required DOT to set a standard of at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020, and the “maximum feasible average fuel economy” after that. That same year, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act authorized the EPA to regulate GHG emissions from cars.

    The Obama administration’s tailpipe standard brought these overlapping mandates together. EPA’s regulation sets how much carbon dioxide can be emitted per mile, which matches with DOT’s increased standard for average fuel economy. It also includes a “midterm review” to assess progress. Administrator Scott Pruitt’s new EPA review, released on April 2, overturned the Obama administration’s midterm review and concluded that the 2022 to 2025 standard was not feasible.

    The EPA now argues that earlier assumptions behind the rule were “optimistic” and can’t be met. However, its review almost entirely ignored the purpose of the standards and the costs of continuing to emit GHGs at high levels. Although the document is 38 pages long, the word “climate” never appears, and “carbon” appears only once.

    The EPA’s decision does not yet have any legal impact. It leaves the current standards in place until the EPA and DOT decide on a less-stringent replacement.

    U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from transportation exceeded those from electric power generation in 2016 for the first time since the 1970s.  USEIA
    Can the Trump administration take away California’s authority to set stricter targets?

    The EPA has never attempted to revoke an existing waiver. In 2007, under George W. Bush, the agency denied California’s request for a waiver to regulate motor vehicle GHG emissions. California sued, but the EPA reversed course under President Obama and granted the state a waiver before the case was resolved.

    California’s current waiver was approved in 2013 as a part of a “grand bargain” between California, federal agencies and automakers. It covers the state’s Advanced Clean Cars program and includes standards to reduce conventional air pollutants like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, as well as the GHG standards jointly developed with the EPA and DOT.

    The Trump administration is threatening to revoke this waiver when it decouples the national GHG vehicle standards from California’s standards. EPA Administrator Pruitt has said that the agency is re-examining the waiver, and that “cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country.” In our view, this statement mischaracterizes how the Clean Air Act works. Other states have voluntarily chosen to follow California’s rules because they see benefits in reducing air pollution.

    How would California respond if the EPA revokes its waiver?

    Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols have all made clear that the state will push back. It’s almost certain that any attempt to revoke or weaken California’s waiver will immediately be challenged in court – and that this would be a major legal battle.


    Nicholas Bryner, Emmett/Frankel Fellow in Environmental Law and Policy, University of California, Los Angeles and Meredith Hankins, Shapiro Fellow in Environmental Law and Policy, University of California, Los Angeles

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      Washington Republican asks USDOT to consider further crude-by-rail regulations

      Repost from American Shipper

      Lawmaker asks USDOT to consider further crude-by-rail regulations

      Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., has requested the Department of Transportation study potential methods for reducing the combustibility of crude oil trains.
      BY BEN MEYER |FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2016

      U.S. House Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., is urging the Department of Transportation (DOT) to consider further regulation of freight trains carrying crude oil.

      Beutler earlier this week sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Federal Railroad Administrator Sara Feinberg and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez asking DOT to study potential methods for reducing the combustibility of crude oil trains.

      Specifically, Beutler asked DOT to consider whether interspersing oil tank cars with non-volatile commodities might make them less likely to catch fire in the event of a derailment.

      Beutler’s letter was largely prompted by a growing number of destructive derailments involving crude oil trains in recent years, the largest of which claimed the lives of 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in July 2013.

      Back in June, a Union Pacific Corp. train carrying crude oil derailed near Mosier, Ore., about 68 miles east of Portland, causing some of the tank cars to burst into flames and spill oil into an adjacent section of the Columbia River. That train was en route from Eastport, Idaho to Tacoma, Wash. carrying crude oil from the Bakken formation, which is more flammable and dangerous than other types of crude oil.

      “Although far less catastrophic than it could have been, the [Mosier] derailment highlighted the need for strong safety measures to address shipments of volatile and hazardous commodities through the Columbia River Gorge – whether related, or unrelated to oil shipments,” Beutler wrote in the letter. “Subsequently, I am writing to request information on dispersing tank cars carrying oil, or other hazardous materials, with non-volatile products throughout trains.”

      She asked DOT to consider whether continuous blocks of oil tank cars increases the risks of combustion, potential benefits of requiring disbursement of cars carrying flammable materials throughout a train, and possible effects on combustibility of use of newer DOT-117 tank cars.

      In addition, Beutler asked if federal regulators have studied speed limits reduction for oil trains as a way to mitigate the risk of combustion.

      Washington state lawmakers last month adopted new regulations surrounding the transportation of crude oil by rail and pipeline that officially take effect Oct. 1. Developed by the Washington Department of Ecology at the request of the legislature, Chapter 173-185 WAC, Oil Movement by Rail and Pipeline Notification, established reporting standards for facilities receiving crude oil transported by rail and pipeline, and for the department to share information with emergency responders, local governments, tribes and the public.

      On the federal level, DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration, in August released final rules amending the federal hazardous materials regulations related to the transport of crude oil and ethanol by rail.

      The rule changes, first introduced by DOT in May 2015 as required by the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, include an enhanced tank car standard and an “aggressive, risk-based” retrofitting schedule for older tank cars carrying crude oil and ethanol.

      In addition, the rules require trains transporting large volumes of flammable liquids to use a new braking standard; employ new operational protocols such as routing requirements and speed restrictions; share information with local government agencies; and provide new sampling and testing requirements DOT said will “improve classification of energy products placed into transport.”

      The Senate in May unanimously passed the Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs, and Safety Evaluation (RESPONSE) Act, which aims to provide additional training for first responders, specifically for handling freight train derailments that include hazardous materials such as crude oil.

      Originally sponsored by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., the legislation establishes a public-private council of emergency responders, federal agencies and industry stakeholders tasked with reviewing current training methods and prescribing best practices for first responders to Congress. The council will be co-chaired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and PHMSA. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., has introduced a companion bill to the RESPONSE Act in the House of Representatives.

      “Currently, oil trains are traveling along the Columbia River Gorge, and my focus is on ensuring federal regulations are making these shipments as safely as possible,” Beutler said in a statement. “Long lines of oil cars are becoming a more familiar sight in our region, and if breaking them up into smaller blocks will better protect our citizens, the Columbia River and nearby forests, we should put a federal standard in place – quickly.”

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        Benicia Mayor outlines possible outcomes for City Council on Sept 20

        Repost of an E-Alert by Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, September 18, 2016
        [Editor: I would expect considerable discussion on Tuesday to center on whether to continue waiting for a Surface Transportation Board response to Valero’s end run around local permitting authority. Valero has been openly urging Council to continue to delay making a decision.  City staff and the Mayor are certainly expecting a motion to delay; 3 of the 4 possible scenarios outlined below center on continuation. (Don’t miss the quote from Christopher Hart, chairperson of the National Transportation Safety Board, and Mayor Patterson’s question, at the bottom of this E-Alert.)  – RS]

        elizabethpatterson
        AN E-ALERT FROM YOUR MAYOR,
        ELIZABETH PATTERSON
        Benicia, California

         

        The Tuesday Council meeting’s main item is the decision on Valero Crude by Rail EIR and Land Use Permit. The complete packet is online here.

        The following are potential scenarios for action:

        1. Valero could submit a formal written request for continuation of the appeal in order for the Federal Surface Transportation Board to render a decision on federal preemption of local land use authority. This request would be considered under the Open Government Ordinance as “new and substantial information” and the Council would decide whether or not this request is new and substantial. If the council votes in the majority, the consideration for delay for STB decision would be on the next agenda. The council would then have to decide whether to proceed or not with the action on the current agenda which is the appeal of the Planning Commission denial of the project. Staff is recommending approving the appeal.
        2. No request in writing for continuation but during the council consideration of the Valero appeal, Valero could request a “point of order” and ask for council consideration of continuing the delay. Council again would have to act on the point of order before proceeding to the agenda item. There could be the same outcome as in #1.
        3. No request for continuation by Valero and consideration of the appeal of the denial by the Planning Commission. A councilmember could request a continuation but council cannot continue the item without Valero’s consent – so a council member could ask for a continuation and if Valero agrees the consideration of continuation would have to be at the next meeting. See #1 for steps.
        4. No request for continuation by anyone. The council will hear staff report – there is no public comment on this item unless there is demonstrably new and substantial information (see above for steps by council for consideration). So the decision can be as follows:
          1. motion and second to deny appeal and thus let stand Planning Commission denial of the land use permit with or without prejudice (with means a new application of the same project must wait one year; without means no such restriction. A modified project would be considered a new application).
          2. motion and second to consider certification of Final Environmental Impact Report followed by a motion to deny appeal.
          3. motion to certify the FEIR and grant the appeal and approve the land use permit.

        “We’ve been lucky thus far that derailments involving flammable liquids in America have not yet occurred in a populated area,” Hart [current head of the National Transportation Safety Board] said. “But an American version of Lac-Mégantic could happen at any time. Instead of happening out in the middle of a wheat field it could happen in the middle of a big city.”
        The Bakken oil train explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada, killed 47 people. As these safety issues are ignored, dismissed, or continued to be studied, an important question remains: How long until that luck runs out?
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