Tag Archives: Tim Butters

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.

Rules on oil train, pipeline safety not moving fast enough, lawmakers say

Repost from The Tri-City Herald

Rules on oil train, pipeline safety not moving fast enough, lawmakers say

By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, April 14, 2015

A chorus of lawmakers expressed frustration Tuesday with the delays in approving and implementing various regulations related to the movement of hazardous materials by rail and pipeline.

The acting chiefs of two U.S. Department of Transportation agencies heard Republicans and Democrats in the House Transportation Committee complain that rules on railroad tank cars and oil and gas pipelines had been on the table for as long as four years.

“It’s just unacceptable,” said Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

Sarah Feinberg of the Federal Railroad Administration and Tim Butters of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration noted that they have little choice but to work within a multi-step process that involves public comment, industry participation and multiple layers of review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“It’s not built for speed,” Feinberg testified. “I wish that it was.”

Butters said that his agency had received 30,000 comments on its proposed rule to improve the safety of oil trains. He said the agency needed to evaluate them as part of its process.

“We have to go through all of those,” he said. “And that takes time.”

But a series of train derailments and pipeline failures in recent years has caught the attention of members of Congress, who are hearing concerns from their constituents.

“That’s just an excuse,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., the panel’s chairman. “Four years is too long.”

Last week, Feinberg visited Denham’s district in Central California to discuss pending rules on the construction of tank cars used to carry flammable liquids, the way the trains are operated and the way the tracks are inspected and maintained.

She also visited the Sacramento-area district of Rep. John Garamendi, a Democrat who last month introduced legislation to regulate the volatility of crude oil loaded into tank cars. Texas and North Dakota, the nation’s leading oil producers, currently set such limits.

Garamendi proposed that the committee write the new rules into the larger surface transportation bill Congress needs to pass this year.

“We could write laws that protect the public,” he said. “Why don’t we do that?”

Acts of Congress don’t always make things go faster. In 2008, lawmakers mandated that railroads install a GPS-based collision-avoidance system called Positive Train Control by the end of 2015. But the nation’s freight and passenger railroads are likely to miss the Dec. 31 deadline.

Once the new oil train rules become final, it could take years to retrofit or replace tens of thousands of tank cars used to transport the country’s supply of crude oil and ethanol.

As a sign of how slowly the process moves, Capuano noted that BNSF, the nation’s biggest hauler of crude oil in trains, has gotten ahead of regulators by voluntarily lowering train speeds, increasing track inspections and encouraging shippers to use better tank cars.

“Whose butt do we have to kick?” he asked. “Whose budget do we have to cut? Whose budget do we have to enhance to make this work?”