By May 26, 2015 Read More →

New oil by rail regulations: Lawsuits from industry, eco-activists

Oil by rail regs too strict for industry, not strict enough for environmentalists

New federal regulations governing oil by rail trains are coming under fire from both industry and environmentalists, with lawsuits recently launched by both sides.

On May 12, the American Petroleum Institute petitioned the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., would block a requirement for improvements to railroad tank cars that are known to fail during accidents.

oil by rail

Environmental groups complain that rules exempting trains with fewer than 35 tank cars from meeting the tougher construction requirement.

API spokesman Brian Straessle said the politically influential trade group supports better oil by rail tank cars but needs more time to get them on the tracks.

“We definitely support upgrades to the fleet,” Straessle said. “It’s a matter of timing.”

The Department of Transportation rules unveiled May 1 call for an estimated 43,000 cars that primarily haul crude to be phased out of retrofitted by 2020. Similar improvements to cars primarily carrying ethanol must be completed by 2023.

The petition filed late Monday also challenges a requirement for more advanced braking systems on oil by rail trains. The oil industry contends the brakes are unproven and would be too costly.

The braking rule has drawn similar objections from the rail industry, which is considering its own legal challenge to the rule, said Ed Greenberg, spokesman for Association of American Railroads.

The railroads also have concerns about tank cars, but they are the opposite of the oil industry’s worries. Railroads want the cars to be fitted with “thermal blankets” that wrap around the tank to prevent fires from spreading during a major derailment.

oil by rail

Patti Goldman, Earthjustice attorney.

On May 14, Earthjustice filed suit in the 9th Circuit challenging the tank safety standards on behalf of ForestEthics, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, Washington Environmental Council, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Spokane Riverkeeper, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

“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,” said Patti Goldman, Earthjustice attorney.

Earthjustice says the newoil by rail rules are deficient in a number of 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 by rail 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 by rail trains run at safe speeds. Speed limits have been set for “high threat urban areas,” but very few cities have received that designation.

“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.”

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