Tag Archives: State regulation

Laws regulating crude oil trains in several states

Repost from Public Source
[Editor:  Although the emphasis here is on Pennsylvania, this article gives some detail on state laws regulating crude oil trains in several other states.  – RS]

Can Pennsylvania officials do more to address crude oil train safety?

Other states with heavy crude-by-rail traffic have passed various laws to address safety. Pennsylvania legislators have not.

By Natasha Khan | PublicSource | Nov. 22, 2015
Can Pennsylvania officials do more to address crude oil train safety?
Legislators in states with an uptick in crude-by-rail traffic have passed laws and changed policies. But not in Pennsylvania. (iStock photo)

They hug rivers, breeze by farms and cross 100-year-old bridges. They chug past hospitals, schools, stadiums and many, many homes. And sometimes, they derail.

As shipments of crude oil by train have increased nationwide, anxiety over the chance of a derailment happening in a big city, like Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, has grown.

Philadelphia Energy Solutions, a refinery, is the nation’s largest consumer of fracked oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale, which makes Pennsylvania a top destination for oil trains.

PublicSource reported in March that 1.5 million Pennsylvanians live within a half-mile of tracks that haul crude oil — the federally recommended evacuation zone for oil train fires.

While the railroad industry says that 99.99 percent of shipments of oil by rail safely make it to their destinations, there have been at least seven derailments of trains carrying crude oil involving spills or fires in North America this year; the latest spill was earlier this month in Wisconsin.

So far, only minor derailments have occurred in Pennsylvania. Some say it’s only a matter of time before the state experiences a big crash.

Regulating railroads is mostly under the purview of the federal government, which recently issued new safety standards for older tank cars and braking systems. But legislators in some states with heavy crude-by-rail traffic have passed laws and changed policies out of fear of what a major derailment could mean for their states.

While Gov. Tom Wolf has taken some action on the issue — most notably commissioning a rail safety expert to assess ways to lower risks of derailments — no laws addressing prevention or emergency response have passed, or been introduced, by state legislators in Pennsylvania.


“There have been bills introduced in New Jersey, New York, Minnesota, Washington state and California, and I haven’t seen squat out of Pennsylvania,” said Fred Millar, an independent hazardous materials consultant in Washington, D.C.

Laws passed in other states vary and offer several paths for Pennsylvania to consider.

In 2014, Minnesota passed a law that raises millions of dollars a year to fund emergency response initiatives, state studies on infrastructure improvements and rail inspectors.

“I feel like there’s a huge responsibility for state and even local governments to be laying down these issues and challenging the railroads,” said the law’s sponsor, state Rep. Frank Hornstein (D-Minn).

In May, Washington state passed a law requiring railroads to show oil spill response plans and how they would pay cleanup costs for a worst-case spill. The law also placed a fee on barrels of oil entering the state to help pay for more emergency response programs. Additionally, the law required more public disclosure of crude oil train shipments.

A few days after Wisconsin experienced two train derailments in early November, state lawmakers introduced rail safety legislation that addressed prevention and response.

‘Evaluating options’

A group of Pennsylvania state senators have been exploring oil train safety issues.

“As far as legislative action, we are in the process of evaluating options,” said Nolan Ritchie, assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee, which is looking at the issue along with the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

Sen. John Rafferty, R-Berks/Chester/Montgomery, chairman of the transportation committee, did not want to comment until they have something they plan to introduce, according to Ritchie.

Ritchie said they’re looking at safety precautions taken by railroads, what the governor has done and laws in other states, while also making sure Pennsylvania doesn’t overstep legally.

“Pennsylvania really cannot add additional regulations that would basically be under the jurisdiction of the federal government,” he said.

Some states are testing that idea. Similar to Washington’s law, California passed legislation in 2014 requiring that railroads provide emergency response plans and proof they can pay oil spill cleanup costs. Two railroads and an industry group sued claiming federal law preempts state rail laws.

In June, a federal court dismissed the case because the state hadn’t started enforcing the law, and railroads couldn’t challenge it if it hadn’t yet been enforced. The law is now in effect.

Part of the issue for railroads is the inconsistency of having to follow different rules in each state with oil trains moving across the country.

“It’s a national system that needs to be managed as a national system,” said Grady Cothen, a retired Federal Railroad Administration safety official. “And you really can’t lay on [state officials] for regulating the safety of railroad operations. If you do, it’s a very inefficient patchwork and you end up with railroads lobbying legislatures all over the United States… ”

Prevention and response

rail car
A train carrying crude oil can be identified by a red triangle-shaped placard on tank cars with the code 1267. It is a U.S. Department of Transportation classification code that identifies the hazardous material for emergency responders. (Photo by Molly Duerig/PublicSource)

Matt Stepp, policy director at environmental group PennFuture, said there are legislative steps that can be taken now in Pennsylvania.

He said the state should find or create revenue streams to pay for oil spill prevention plans and more robust emergency response initiatives.

“They need to come up with a consistent revenue stream where they put some money … to double, if not triple, the number of inspectors the state can deploy to the areas with a lot of traffic,” Stepp said.

Washington state’s 2015 oil train law put oil refineries on the hook for a 4-cent per barrel spill prevention tax and 1-cent oil spill response tax on oil moved by rail in bulk. The funds are put toward emergency response programs in oil train communities. Washington’s law also increased a state tax on railroads that helped pay for eight new rail inspectors.

In August, Wolf released a rail safety report recommending the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission [PUC] add rail inspectors. PUC Chairman Gladys Brown said the commission has filled one vacancy for an inspector since the report and is currently looking to fill another.

Brown said they hope to have the funds to hire two more after that to work with the Federal Railroad Administration to monitor the tracks. Railroads also hire their own inspectors.

To create more funding for cleanup and response programs in California, legislators approved a 6.5-cent fee on oil companies for every barrel of oil that comes into the state by rail.

Pennsylvania State Planning and Policy Secretary John Hanger said these kinds of fees are something Wolf’s administration is “open to,” but that they would likely require legislative action.

Within the last year and a half, Washington state and New York have increased funding for oil spill response funds.

At the national level, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa, has proposed a bill that would put a $175 fee per shipment on each older DOT-111 tank car, which have been known to catch fire or spill when trains derail and are being phased out. The money generated by the bill would go to oil spill cleanup costs, training emergency responders and hiring railroad inspectors.

Stepp said state legislators also should create a cleanup fund that communities can tap into if an accident happens. Pennsylvania doesn’t have one, although there is a federal oil spill fund that states can access.

“Whether you’re talking about a big city like Philly or a county, none of them are necessarily prepared for taking on such a kind of accident [crude oil derailment] and the long term impacts of that accident,” he said.

Railroad and oil companies would “play a role” in cleanup costs, Stepp said, but that can take time and sometimes doesn’t cover all the mitigation costs. “Taxpayers tend to be on the hook for at least some of it,” he said.

Railroads say safety first

Officials from CSX and Norfolk Southern also testified at a hearing with the two state Senate committees on how they’ve advanced safety for crude oil transport. The officials focused on how they’ve trained first responders across Pennsylvania, supported tougher federal tank car standards and invested billions to improve track conditions.

“We are investing in Pennsylvania and elsewhere to further enhance safety and efficiency as we move the goods that move America,” David Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, wrote in an email.

“Safety is CSX’s highest priority,” CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle wrote in an email.

You can use this map to explore Bakken crude oil train routes within Pennsylvania. Use the search bar to zoom in and see whether your house, workplace or school is located within the federal half-mile evacuation zone.

Their safety precautions aren’t always sufficient. In February, a CSX oil train derailed in Mount Carbon, W.V. The crash caused explosions and people were evacuatedfrom their homes. Regulators discovered a contractor twice found a flaw in a rail in the months before the accident.

But the railroad didn’t repair it and the rail cracked, causing the derailment of 27 cars on the 107-car oil train. Local residents are suing the railroad for failing to properly inspect the track.

In October, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) fined CSX and announced new track guidelines, including calling for railroads to improve inspections.

Doolittle said CSX is working with the FRA to develop additional inspection processes to more quickly and accurately identify rail flaws.

State rail safety report

The state rail safety report was prepared by Allan Zarembski, a University of Delaware railroad engineering professor and an expert in railway track and structures. He focused on how railroads could prevent track and railcar wheel failures.

The report lists 27 steps that can be taken by railroads and state agencies to reduce the risk of a derailment in the state.

Spokesmen for Norfolk Southern and CSXwouldn’t talk to PublicSource about whether they have adopted the recommendations. Instead both sent statements listing what they’ve done to improve safety and said they’re open to working with state officials to address the issue.

“The railroads are currently meeting some, but not all, of the recommendations,” Jeff Sheridan, Wolf’s spokesman, wrote in an email.

For instance, both railroads have refused to adopt a 35 mph speed limit for oil trains through cities with populations of more than 100,000, requested by the governor and Casey. They run them at a maximum of 40 mph.

“The administration continues to pursue this recommendation and absolutely feels that this is [an] important step to reduce the chances of a derailment,” Sheridan wrote.

Hanger said the recommendations aimed at state agencies have almost all been adopted.

These included steps the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) can take to improve response initiatives.

Ruth Miller, a PEMA spokeswoman, said the agency has focused on crude-by-rail emergency planning and is studying where more training and response materials may be needed.

“PEMA plans to provide opportunities for additional exercises as may be requested or needed (as funding is available),” she wrote in an email.

Emergency response coordinators in Cambria, Dauphin and Huntingdon counties told PublicSource that first responders have received more training regarding crude oil trains — some of it paid for by the railroads and some by state grants — but more is needed.

Lancaster County emergency response managers testified in June that the Legislature should expand the law on hazardous materials emergency planning to create more funding.

“The emergency services are prepared for a small-scale incident,” said Lancaster County Commissioner Scott Martin at the hearing, “but the amounts involved in a train spill or fire would be quickly overwhelming.”

Exxon Mobil Investigated for Possible Climate Change Lies by New York Attorney General

Repost from the New York Times
[Editor:  See also the NYT ‘s 11/6 follow-up story, “More Oil Companies Could Join Exxon Mobil as Focus of Climate Investigations.”  – RS]

Exxon Mobil Investigated for Possible Climate Change Lies by New York Attorney General

By Justin Gillis and Cllifford Krauss, November 5, 2015
An Exxon Mobil refinery in Los Angeles, Calif. The New York attorney general is investigating the oil and gas company. Credit T. Fallon / Bloomberg, via Getty Images

The New York attorney general has begun an investigation of Exxon Mobil to determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how such risks might hurt the oil business.

According to people with knowledge of the investigation, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued a subpoena Wednesday evening to Exxon Mobil, demanding extensive financial records, emails and other documents.

The investigation focuses on whether statements the company made to investors about climate risks as recently as this year were consistent with the company’s own long-running scientific research.

The people said the inquiry would include a period of at least a decade during which Exxon Mobil funded outside groups that sought to undermine climate science, even as its in-house scientists were outlining the potential consequences — and uncertainties — to company executives.

Continue reading Exxon Mobil Investigated for Possible Climate Change Lies by New York Attorney General

Does keeping hazardous rail cargo secret make Maine safer?

Repost from the Bangor Daily News

Does keeping hazardous rail cargo secret make Maine safer?

By Darren Fishell, Oct. 28, 2015, at 9:17 a.m.
A new state law that took effect Oct. 15, 2015, exempts information about freight rail cargo from Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. While shipping crude oil by rail, as illustrated in the 2013 photo in Hermon, has largely ceased, a spokesman for the environmental group 350 Maine questions whether the new exemption is meant more to quell protests than to protect business interests or promote better communication between railways and first responders.
A new state law that took effect Oct. 15, 2015, exempts information about freight rail cargo from Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. While shipping crude oil by rail, as illustrated in the 2013 photo in Hermon, has largely ceased, a spokesman for the environmental group 350 Maine questions whether the new exemption is meant more to quell protests than to protect business interests or promote better communication between railways and first responders. Brian Feulner | BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — Information revealing when, where and how much hazardous material is shipped by rail through Maine became sealed from public view under state law earlier this month, in a move first responders hope will allow them greater access to information about dangerous materials passing through the state.

The new exemption to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act — the only new exemption to become law during the last legislative session — in June cleared a veto from Gov. Paul LePage, who wrote he believed any information in the hands of first responders should be public.

The railroad industry, however, has pushed for shielding for those shipments from public records, citing safety reasons and business confidentiality.

“Maine didn’t have the exclusion, and [railroads] just didn’t share the information,” Mike Shaw, an Amtrak employee and former lawmaker from Standish, said. “I figured that if it can be in the hands of [first responders] and I don’t know about it, it’s better than nobody knowing it at all.”

Shaw, the bill’s sponsor, resigned from the Legislature in August after moving to Freeport.

Safety and security

Jeffrey Cammack, executive director and legislative liaison for the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association, said the issue of how to get that information from railroad companies is on the group’s upcoming agenda.

“What we’ve heard from the chiefs is that sometimes [a hazardous material shipment] is stored on the rails in their community and they don’t know it’s there,” Cammack said. “They hope to have some dialogue with the railroad companies just about how long it’s there and why it might be there.”

Cammack said first responders would be better able to prepare for a disaster, spill or derailment with that knowledge.

“The person in control of the product and the emergency responders will have a response plan,” Cammack said. “That’s what we look to gain.”

The highest concern, he said, has been about hazardous materials stored in a town at times for multiple days without emergency responders being alerted.

Shaw said he believed the American Association of Railroads helped with the language of the bill, which initially shielded such records when in the hands of first responders. In testimony, Shaw advocated for broadening that exemption to all state or local agencies.

Ed Greenberg, with the American Association of Railroads, could not confirm the association’s direct involvement in the bill language, but said the industry has general concerns about the security of shipments and proprietary business information.

“Whenever there is sensitive information in whatever level is made public, we believe it elevates security risks by making it easier for someone intent on causing harm,” Greenberg said.

Cammack said that’s not the biggest concern of the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association.

“We know that for 99.9 percent of the people, that isn’t an issue,” Cammack said.

Nate Moulton, director of the Maine Department of Transportation’s Office of Freight and Business Services, said competition between railroads and other shippers also is a legitimate business concern.

“No. 1, do you want them or your trucking competitors to know how much you’re moving?” Moulton said. “If you’re a trucking company, you don’t post publicly what you’re moving and how much.”

The new exemption in Maine covers all types of hazardous materials that might be shipped by rail, which could include information about other shipments, including some chemicals delivered to paper mills.

The St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad, which runs from Portland to Quebec, was the only company that reported lobbying on the bill, in February. The railroad transports chemicals, forest products, brick and cement, food and agricultural feed products, and steel and scrap, according to its website.

Crude oil concerns

The fight over that kind of shipment information ramped up in the wake of the Lac-Megantic, Quebec, explosion that killed 47 people in July 2013. Federal rules required new disclosures for regular, large shipments of crude oil from the Bakken Formation, beneath North Dakota, Montana and the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Read Brugger, an activist with 350 Maine who protested the transport of crude oil through the state, said shippers generally have sought greater secrecy about their cargo.

“Keeping secret what travels through our communities continues to be high priority for the shipping industry — be it by rail, truck or boat,” Brugger wrote in an email. “They rightly fear that releasing that information to an informed public would unleash a backlash that they could not control.”

Federal rules since May 2014 have required notification to state emergency responders about trains carrying 1 million or more gallons of that type of oil, a requirement that prompted railroad companies to seek nondisclosure agreements with several states over the information.

But any shipments, and especially any of that scale, are unlikely to roll through Maine any time soon. Only two trains carrying shipments of crude oil have come through Maine since the Lac-Megantic accident. Brugger noted the only shipments through Maine in recent years have been less than that amount.

Chop Hardenbergh, publisher and author of the trade newsletter Atlantic Northeast Rails and Ports, wrote in an email that such shipments by rail aren’t likely to pick up until oil prices do.

In addition, Irving’s New Brunswick refinery is not receiving any crude oil by rail and by 2020 could have access to TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline, Hardenbergh wrote.

More rail freight

With a $37 million freight rail improvement project moving ahead after gaining federal funding earlier this week, Moulton said that likely will mean more freight traffic after its expected completion date of summer 2017. That stands to benefit the forest products industry and a booming market for propane shipped by rail, but as common carries, rail shippers are subject to regional demands.

“They don’t get to pick and choose what they move,” Moulton said. “Any legal product they have to quote a rate and then they have to move it.”

About the new disclosure law, Moulton said there are competing priorities.

“It’s a balance, and hopefully we’re finding that balance so that we don’t upend the needs of the railroads and the shippers and we get the right information to the right people that may have to respond to an incident,” Moulton said.

Cammack said the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association will meet Nov. 18 to address the issue of getting that information from railroad operators in the state.

SF CHRONICLE EDITORIAL: California should lead way, again, on climate

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday Editorial

California should lead way, again, on climate

San Francisco Chronicle, August 28, 2015 5:53pm

By any clean-and-green measure, California zooms past the rest of the nation, requiring cleaner fuels, more alternative energy and cars that use less gas. As these policies have taken root, the state economy has strengthened, creating more jobs in a forward-looking marketplace.

The connection should be clear. California is not only plotting a new energy course, but it’s also prospering. The state law that set emission goals nearly a decade ago hasn’t harmed livelihoods or sent business fleeing.

This experience should teach Sacramento an important lesson as lawmakers face a decision on doing more about climate change. The state Legislature is on the verge of approving a sweeping measure, SB350, that would cut gas and diesel use by half, boost renewable sources of electricity from a third to 50 percent, and double energy efficiency in buildings, all within 15 years. A second measure, SB32, would widen a state cap-and-trade program that cuts other sources of emissions blamed for rising global temperatures.

These targets will put California far beyond President Obama’s plans to curb pollution from power plants and boost solar, wind and biofuels in the nation’s mix of energy sources. But SB350, which has passed the state Senate, could falter in the Assembly where more moderate, business-friendly Democrats hold power.

The forces are building to block the bill, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, a Los Angeles Democrat. The oil industry, a steady source of campaign funds, is putting pressure on Assembly Democrats to stop the bill or water it down. These foes predict gas rationing, extra fees and arbitrary directives from state bureaucrats if the law kicks in.

Walking away from the bill would be a mistake, a step backward that will deny California cleaner air, greener energy and an opportunity to lead a timid nation on an essential issue. Wavering lawmakers should consider a recent poll showing that two-thirds of the state believes a deepening drought is linked to climate change and supports Gov. Jerry Brown’s directives that match up with SB350.

Along with California’s welcoming politics on the topic, there is direct experience to consider. Tech breakthroughs ranging from cleaner-burning engines to cheaper solar panels are helping this state move forward. Growing numbers of high-mileage cars, including electric and hybrid models, are expected to provide nearly half of the gas savings needed to hit the 50 percent drop by 2030.

There are reasons to be cautious. Energy improvements often come with steep startup costs such as solar panels on the roof or the purchase of a gas-thrifty car. Low-income residents will need a break in tapping technology available only to well-off consumers. State regulators should be flexible in designing new programs to advance conservation.

But California has shown it can adapt and thrive as it heads in this direction. Climate change is a provable and genuine threat to the state’s future. It’s time to adopt genuine changes that guide the state in the right direction and serve as a model for the rest of the country.

How far should California go?
A sweeping bill would change the way residents drive, live and work. Here are the major ingredients of SB350, which has passed the state Senate and is up for a vote in the Assembly:

On the road: Cut petroleum use in half by 2030. Tailpipe emissions are a top source of carbon dioxide, the main factor behind climate change. Oil companies are lobbying heavily against the limit, saying it will bring angry lines at gas pumps in a car-crazy state. Higher-mileage cars including electric and hybrids will be key in making this directive work.

On the grid: Half of the state’s electricity would come from renewables, up from a one-third level in five years. Utilities have qualms but are not actively opposed.

In the home: Doubling the efficiency in buildings to conserve heating and cooling costs. No major opposition.