Tag Archives: Spokane Riverkeeper

Groups Sue Obama Administration Over Weak Tank Car Standards

Press Release from ForestEthics

Groups Sue Obama Administration Over Weak Tank Car Standards

The new safety standards issued by the Department of Transportation take too long to get dangerous tank cars off the tracks and contain loopholes that leave too many vulnerable
May 14, 2015, Eddie Scher, ForestEthics, (415) 815-7027, eddie@forestethics.org

San Francisco – In the wake of a spate of fiery derailments and toxic spills involving trains hauling volatile crude oil, a coalition of conservation organizations and citizen groups are challenging the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) weak safety standards for oil trains. Less than a week after the DOT released its final tank car safety rule on May 1, a train carrying crude oil exploded outside of Heimdal, North Dakota. Under the current standards, the tank cars involved in the accident would not be retired from crude oil shipping or retrofitted for another 5 to 8 years.

Earthjustice has filed suit in the 9th Circuit challenging the rule on behalf of ForestEthics, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, Washington Environmental Council, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Spokane Riverkeeper, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The Department of Transportation’s weak oil train standard just blew up in its face on the plains of North Dakota last week,” said Patti Goldman, Earthjustice attorney. “Pleas from the public, reinforced by the National Transportation Safety Board, to stop hauling explosive crude in these tank cars have fallen on deaf ears, leaving people across the country vulnerable to catastrophic accidents.”

Rather than immediately banning the most dangerous tank cars — DOT-111s and CPC-1232s — that are now used every day to transport volatile Bakken and tar sands crude oil, the new standards call for a 10-year phase out. Even then the standard will allow smaller trains — up to 35 loaded tank cars in a train — to continue to use the unsafe tank cars.

The new rule fails to protect people and communities in several major ways:

• The rule leaves hazardous cars carrying volatile crude oil on the tracks for up to 10 years.

• The rule has gutted public notification requirements, leaving communities and emergency responders in the dark about the oil trains and explosive crude oil rumbling through their towns and cities.

• New cars will require thicker shells to reduce punctures and leaks, but retrofit cars are subject to a less protective standard.

• The standard doesn’t impose adequate speed limits to ensure that oil trains run at safe speeds. Speed limits have been set for “high threat urban areas,” but very few cities have received that designation.

Click here for a close analysis of the hidden dangers buried in the federal tank car rule

“Explosive oil trains present real and imminent danger, and protecting the public and waterways requires an aggressive regulatory response,” said Marc Yaggi, Executive Director of Waterkeeper Alliance. “Instead, the Department of Transportation has finalized an inadequate rule that clearly was influenced by industry and will not prevent more explosions and fires in our communities. We hope our challenge will result in a rule that puts the safety of people and their waterways first.”

“We’re suing the administration because these rules won’t protect the 25 million Americans living in the oil train blast zone,” says Todd Paglia, ForestEthics Executive Director. “Let’s start with common sense – speed limits that are good for some cities are good for all communities, 10 years is too long to wait for improved tank cars, and emergency responders need to know where and when these dangerous trains are running by our homes and schools.”

LEGAL DOCUMENT: http://earthjustice.org/documents/legal-document/petition-for-review-groups-sue-obama-administration-over-weak-tank-car-standards 


The National Transportation Safety Board has repeatedly found that the DOT-111 tank cars are prone to puncture on impact, spilling oil and often triggering destructive fires and explosions. The Safety Board has made official recommendations to stop shipping crude oil in these hazardous tank cars, but the federal regulators have not heeded these pleas. Recent derailments and explosions have made clear that newer tank cars, known as CPC-1232s, are not significantly safer, and the Safety Board has called for a ban on shipping hazardous fuels in these cars as well.

The recent surge in U.S. and Canadian oil production, much of it from Bakken shale and Alberta tar sands, led to a more than 4,000 percent increase in crude oil shipped by rail from 2008 to 2013, primarily in trains with 100 to 120 oil cars that can be over 1.5 miles long. The result has been oil spills, destructive fires, and explosions when oil trains have derailed. More oil spilled in train accidents in 2013 than in the 38 years from 1975 to 2012 combined.

ForestEthics calculates that 25 million Americans live in the dangerous blast zone along the nation’s rail lines.


Q&A: The Challenge To The Federal Tank Car Standards

Map: Crude By Rail Across the United States

Quote Sheet By Officials On The Dangers of Shipping Bakken Crude in Hazardous Tank Cars

ForestEthics Map: Oil Train Blast Zone


When a Public Hearing Isn’t for the Public; Oil Train Hearing in Spokane Leaves Public Frustrated

Repost from Huffington Post

When a Public Hearing Isn’t for the Public; Oil Train Hearing in Spokane, WA Leaves Public Frustrated

Bart Mihailovich, Spokane Riverkeeper   |   06/18/2014

Earlier this week, members of the Washington State Senate’s Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee held a public hearing on oil trains and oil transport safety in Spokane, WA in the Spokane City Council chambers at Spokane City Hall. The hearing was organized by Senators Mike Baumgartner (R-Spokane) and Doug Ericksen (R-Bellingham) who during last year’s legislative session proposed SB 6524 that called for more studies in regards to the safety of the transport of hazardous materials through the state. The bill was quite a bit weaker than a bill proposed by the Washington Environmental Priorities Coalition, and was often referred to as the industry bill.

The significance of such a hearing being held in Spokane shouldn’t be understated as these hearings are typically held in Olympia at the Capital, but also because of all the cities in the state of Washington, Spokane the greater Inland Northwest are significantly more at risk to an increase in oil trains due to the proximity and quantity of rail lines through the community.

Spokane Riverkeeper, and many others in attendance, attended the hearing with a goal of hearing from Senators Baumgartner and Ericksen about their bill and any possible (or hopeful) changes that they may be thinking going forward, and to testify concerns about the aforementioned bill for not being strong and specific enough, and to testify general and / or specific concerns about Bakken crude oil trains traveling through Spokane and surrounding communities.

Little did many of us in attendance know, though I suppose we should have expected, that Senators Baumgartner and Ericksen planned an extremely frustrating two hours of stalling and industry speak with very little public testimony and barely any mention of Spokane and the impacts shipping crude oil poses to Spokane and surrounding communities.

Representatives from the North Dakota Petroleum Council and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) took up roughly 100 of the 120 minutes of the hearing with occasional questioning and comments from other members of the Senate committee. And with those questions, industry rarely answered with specifics and almost always pivoted away to comfortable talking points.

Frustrations from those in attendance in the Council Chambers started appearing almost immediately as the rep from the North Dakota Petroleum Council went very deep in to a PowerPoint presentation disputing claims about Bakken crude oil is more flammable or more dangerous using complicated slides and numbers about flash points and chemistry factors.

Spokane City Councilman Jon Snyder took to Twitter to express frustrations: [jonbsnyder@jonbsnyder  State Senate hearing on Oil Trains in Spokane: more of a chemistry lesson than a safety discussion. Thx @andybillig for good questions.  11:11 AM – 17 Jun 2014]

At one point during the extremely long, boring and not particularly on topic presentation from the oil industry, Senator Mike Baumgartner spoke up and asked for the rep to speak in layman’s terms and say yes or no, Bakken Crude oil is more flammable and more dangerous than other types of products. To which the rep responded, “no, it’s the same”, and which also provided the Republican Senate staffer who was live Tweeting the hearing a very likable and shareable tweet to attribute to Senator Baumgartner who conveniently enough is in the midst of a reelection campaign. More on this convenient irony later.

But more importantly, the claim that Bakken crude is not as dangerous is not only controversial, but also on the wrong side of not only public perception but regulatory movement, as can be seen in a Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration announcement from earlier this year.

Next up were a few suits from BNSF who spent most of their time lauding investments that BNSF is or has made to make their company and their equipment safer, for themselves, and little or no time talking about how to make Spokane or surrounding communities safer.

Then the kicker was BNSF often repeating that 2013 was their safest year to date, when in fact it was wildly reported earlier this year that more oil was spilled in 2013 from BNSF trains than the previous 38 years total.

With the 18 minutes that were left in the hearing, members of the public, those with persistence, were given an opportunity to speak to the Committee and those who spoke almost all testified to concerns for shipping dangerous Bakken crude through Spokane and the Inland Northwest, especially given the litany of recent oil train accidents and the increasing and louder call for more transparency, more safety and more certainty. A recap of concerns can be found via this news article from The Spokesman-Review.

If this truly was a hearing for Spokane, by Spokane, we most certainly would have seen, and would have been right to expect to see presentations or statements from various response or regulatory agencies in the area who would be responsible if something were to happen in Spokane. Nowhere or at no time did we hear from any of those agencies or representatives. Which leads me to conclude that this was never intended to be any more than a highly politicized campaign opportunity for two Senators in heated reelection bids.

Yes, it was a big deal, or could have ben a big deal that the Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee came to Spokane for this hearing. But I couldn’t help to think that right off the bat the whole thing was stacked against the public. The hearing was at 10:30 a.m., a very difficult time for members of the public and concerned citizens to participate . I found it funny that Senator Baumgartner used his welcome address to say, “this is good for Spokane as many folks here find it difficult to travel to Olympia to participate in the process like this.”. To which I would say, Senator Baumgartner, this hearing didn’t make anything easier. A quick glance around the Council Chambers also showed that there were far more more lobbyists, industry staffers, and other “paid to be there” attendees than members of the public.

Senators Baumgartner and Ericksen are both very savvy politicians. Oil train shipments through Spokane and the state of Washington is a very heated issue. Their bill last year was an industry bill at best, offering nothing more than more studies and more hearings and little in the way of what residents of this state want which is transparency, safety and some level of assurance. Being their both in reelection mode, having this hearing in Spokane, completely loaded with industry jargon to stall and delay public concerns gave them an opportunity to look like the good guys who are tackling an issue that the constituents want them to. Having the state Senate Republican party there live Tweeting the event to make it look like Baumgartner and Ericksen were getting to the bottom of the public’s concerns was almost too good to be true.

And you know what, it worked. Coverage of the hearing was picked up by news outlets around the state and the region, and all of the coverage painted Senators Baumgartner and Ericksen as the leaders of the concerns. When in fact it was the mere 18 minutes of testimony from the public and questions from other members of the Senate committee that elevated the concerns and asked the questions important to Spokane.

Amazing how much influence the public had with 18 minutes. Imagine if this really was a public hearing.