Tag Archives: Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx

Oil industry sues U.S. over train safety rules

Repost from The Fresno Bee

Oil industry sues government over train safety rules

By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, May 12, 2015

The oil industry went to court Monday over the Obama administration’s new oil train safety rules, challenging the timeline for refitting tens of thousands of tank cars and the requirement for enhanced braking systems on the cars.

In its petition for review, filed Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the American Petroleum Institute called the provisions, unveiled May 1 by the U.S. Department of Transportation, “arbitrary, capricious, (and) an abuse of discretion.”

The industry group asked the court to set aside the provisions. It did not challenge the department’s new standard for newly constructed tank cars carrying crude oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids.

The lawsuit names Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Tim Butters, acting chief of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the agency tasked with enforcing the rules.

In public statements and filings, the oil industry hinted that it would take legal action against the department’s new rules. It had said that the department’s proposed timeline for retrofitting the large fleet of DOT-111 tank cars wasn’t realistic. It also said that the benefits of installing electronic brakes on the tank cars didn’t justify the cost.

The rail industry’s principal trade group, the Association of American Railroads, also opposed the braking requirement, though it was more supportive of the retrofit timeline.

When asked about a potential legal challenge to its rules, Foxx said he expected that the courts would uphold the department’s power to regulate rail transportation.

“We believe strongly that our rule will stand up,” Foxx said on May 1.

This post has been updated to correct the federal court the suit was filed in.

New rules for rail tankers face years of debate, delay

Repost from The State, Columbia, SC

New rules for rail tankers face years of debate, delay

By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Newspapers, May 2, 2015

The U.S. and Canadian governments have unveiled a long-awaited new standard for the tank cars used to transport crude oil and ethanol that includes numerous safety improvements.

But it is far from the final word on efforts to reduce the risk of catastrophic derailments, such as the one that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, nearly two years ago. And industry and environmental groups are bracing for a court fight over portions of the regulations announced Friday that they don’t like.

Most of the current tank car fleet that doesn’t meet the new requirements will be allowed to carry ethanol and some types of crude oil for eight more years. Environmental groups and some lawmakers objected Friday to the extended timeline.

It will be two years before the Energy and Transportation departments complete a study on the properties of crude oil and how they affect the way it reacts in derailments. While the rail industry supports the new tank car standard, it opposes the requirement for an electronic braking system on certain trains.

The regulation also expands the amount of information about rail shipments of flammable liquids that will be available to emergency responders, but incorporates it into an existing regulation that would exempt it from public disclosure.

In Washington on Friday, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and his Canadian counterpart, Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt, rolled out the new regulations, which are generally in sync on both sides of the border, given the seamless nature of the North American rail system.

“Tank cars cross the border every day,” Raitt said in a news conference with Foxx, “so it’s important that the regulations apply equally in both countries.”

The new tank car, called the DOT-117, will have features that are designed to prevent it from puncturing in a derailment and to better withstand prolonged exposure to fire.

The regulation requires that beginning Oct. 1 new tank cars built to transport flammable liquids have thicker shells, full-height shields on each end of the cars and a layer of thermal insulation on the outside. The new standard also requires more protection for valves and outlets.

The railroad industry supports the new tank car design but opposes the requirement that certain types of trains be equipped with electronically controlled brakes by January 2021.

Since the late 19th century, trains have operated with mechanical air brakes. The Federal Railroad Administration has said that electronic brakes would enable trains to stop more quickly and could prevent the accordion-shaped pileups characteristic of recent oil train accidents.

In a phone call with reporters Friday, Ed Hamberger, the president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, a leading industry group, criticized the braking requirement, saying it wouldn’t prevent accidents.

The industry could avoid the requirement by operating the trains it applies to at 30 mph or limiting them to 69 cars. Either way, Hamberger said, it would be costly and disruptive.

The industry is taking a look at its options to challenge the requirement, Hamberger said

Foxx said the electronic braking was reliable technology and that he hoped the railroads would accept it. He was also confident that the regulation would withstand a court challenge.

The rule might also face a challenge from environmentalists, who object to the retrofitting timeline. There have been four major oil train derailments since the beginning of the year, and environmental groups fear there might be more before the new requirements kick in.

Oregon & California Senators ask for more oil train notifications

Repost from The Seattle Times
[Editor: Significant quote: “The four senators are…asking Foxx to lower the threshold for reporting to no higher than 20 carloads. They say most of the accidents with the exception of the Lac-Magentic disaster were caused by smaller and non-Bakken shipments and resulted in explosions, fires or environmental contamination. In one case, the train carried 14 carloads of flammable liquids; in another, 18 carloads.”  – RS]

Senators ask for more oil train notifications

By Gosia Wozniacka, Associated Press, September 30, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. — Four West Coast senators are asking the federal government to expand a recent order for railroads to notify state emergency responders of crude oil shipments.

The letter, sent Monday to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, says railroads should supply states with advanced notification of all high-hazard flammable liquid transports — including crude from outside the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana, as well as ethanol and 71 other liquids.

The letter was signed by Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

In May, Foxx ordered railroads operating trains containing more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil — or about 35 tank cars — to inform states that the trains traverse. The order came in the wake of repeated oil train derailments, including in Lac-Magentic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed.

The West Coast has received unprecedented amounts of crude oil by rail shipments in recent years. More than a dozen oil-by-rail refining or loading facilities and terminals have been built in California, Oregon and Washington, with another two dozen new projects or expansions in the works in the three states.

But according to the California Energy Commission, oil from the Bakken region accounted just for a fourth of crude-by-rail deliveries to California since 2012. Canadian oil — which travels to California through Washington and Oregon, as well as through Idaho and Montana — accounted for as much as 76 percent of California oil deliveries, the senators wrote.

Non-Bakken oil is also delivered to refineries and loading facilities in Oregon and Washington — including a terminal in Portland. A controversial proposed terminal in Vancouver, Washington, would also receive some non-Bakken crude.

Wyden and Merkley in June similarly urged Foxx to expand his order to cover crude from all parts of the U.S. and Canada. Transportation Safety Board Chairman Chris Hart wrote the two senators that month saying all crude shipments are flammable and a risk to communities and the environment — not just the Bakken oil.

The four senators are now repeating the same demand and are also asking Foxx to lower the threshold for reporting to no higher than 20 carloads. They say most of the accidents with the exception of the Lac-Magentic disaster were caused by smaller and non-Bakken shipments and resulted in explosions, fires or environmental contamination. In one case, the train carried 14 carloads of flammable liquids; in another, 18 carloads.

The Association of American Railroads has said the rail industry is complying with Foxx’s original order and the group would have to see the specifics of any proposed changes before commenting further.

Comment period ends 9/30/14 on new federal rules for oil trains – send your thoughts now!

Repost from The Hill
[Editor: The U.S. Department of Transportation is proposing new rules for oil train transport. You can post a comment online here.  The proposed rules, including instructions for submitting comments, can be downloaded here.  – RS]

Comment period starts for oil train rules

By Timothy Cama – 08/01/14

The Obama administration Friday formally published proposals in the Federal Register to stiffen safety rules for trains carrying crude oil and other fuels, kicking off a two-month period in which the public can comment.

The proposals were prompted chiefly by the increase in oil shipped by rail from the Bakken region of North Dakota, which Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said last week necessitates “a new world order on how this stuff moves.” A train carrying crude derailed in Quebec last year, setting off an explosion that killed 47.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed phasing out old rail cars for oil and other flammable liquids like ethanol, implementing new speed and braking standards for the trains and establishing a new testing and classification system for the fuels. Foxx called the rules “the most significant progress” in protecting the country from explosions caused by trains carrying Bakken crude.

DOT said it wants comments on three different possible rules for speed limits and three different options for the thickness of steel on cars.

DOT also said it was not likely to extend the comment period beyond the 60-day standard, “given the urgency of the safety issues addressed in these proposals.”