New draft regulations allow dangerous DOT-111 cars to remain on the rails for shipment of heavy tar sands crude and do not go far enough, fast enough, to protect the Hudson River and local communities
HUDSON VALLEY, NY – October 1, 2014 – Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson jointly submitted comments on new regulations proposed by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) regarding new designs and other measures for reducing the risks of shipping explosive crude oil by rail. The formal comments describe in detail how and why the proposed safety upgrades fail to comply with federal law, sharply criticize PHMSA’s proposal for failing to require strict safety upgrades that will protect the public and urge the agency to use its emergency order authority to implement vital, immediate changes. PHMSA’s rulemaking is replete with loopholes and weak safety proposals, including:
- Despite acknowledging that DOT-111 railcars (the most common railcar used in crude-by-rail transport), “can almost always be expected to breach in the event of a train accident,” and that the cars provide “insufficient puncture resistance” and are “vulnerable to fire and roll-over accidents,” the proposed regulations would very slowly phase out DOT -111s for Bakken crude use, but would allow tens of thousands of these outdated tanker cars to remain on the rails for shipping heavy Canadian tar sands crude, which presents different but equally serious safety and environmental risks.
- Regulations fail to require full disclosure of rail traffic information to first responders, and instead ask the industry if it would prefer to keep this information confidential.
- Regulations fail to require the most protective braking improvements or speed restrictions, and fail to even consider limits on the length of trains that could reduce the accident risk and impacts of a derailment.
- Regulations would allow railroads to continue operating 120 car unit trains of Bakken crude oil without requiring any train specific spill response plans – this despite the fact that a 120 car unit train carries as much oil as an oil barge or tanker, both of which must have spill response plans approved by the Coast Guard.
“Put simply, these rules won’t stop the next bomb train disaster,” said Paul Gallay, President and Hudson Riverkeeper. “We deserve real protection for communities and the environment—not a rule that defers to the rail and oil industries at every turn.”
"The spike in volume of crude oil being transported down the Hudson River makes us far more vulnerable to serious accidents. A crude oil spill into the Hudson River would be catastrophic to the public health and natural resources of our region," said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan. "The federal government has the responsibility to create a system of regulations, inspections and emergency response procedures to protect our communities and Hudson River. We need much stronger action — particularly in eliminating loopholes through which the regulations fail to cover tar sands crude transport or trains with fewer than 20 cars — and we need these changes immediately."
Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson are calling for immediate adoption of the most stringent tank car standards, speed restrictions and use of electronic controlled pneumatic braking in all trains carrying crude, as well as a closing of loopholes in the rule that leave heavy tar sands crude and trains carrying fewer than 20 cars of Bakken crude completely unaddressed. The groups also are advocating for highly important natural resources to be designated and avoided where possible (and mitigation measures put in place if not) in the recommended routing analysis.
"Ever increasing quantities of oil transported by rail puts communities and waterways across the country at unnecessary risk, and we call upon Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administrator Cynthia Quarterman to issue an emergency order to remedy a literally explosive situation," said Marc Yaggi, Executive Director of Waterkeeper Alliance. "Oil transported by rail causes leaks, spills and dozens of accidents just this year that put human health and the environment at unnecessary risk. I'm joined today by 23 individual Waterkeeper organizations, each of which face dangerous and ever-expanding threats from oil trains barreling through their communities. We call upon Administrator Quarterman to act immediately to protect the public interest and our waterways from this serious and immediate threat."
Since late 2013, the groups have been working on many fronts to put a stop to the transport of up to 6.3 billion gallons of crude oil per year on an accident-prone “virtual pipeline” made up of trains, barges and ships. Read more about the campaign to put an end to the gravest threat to the Hudson River in a generation: http://www.riverkeeper.org/campaigns/river-ecology/crude-oil-transport%20/.