Scenic Hudson and Allied Groups File Appeal of Provisions in Crude Oil Rule by U.S. DOT

Friday, June 5, 2015 -- Scenic Hudson

Hayley Carlock
Environmental Attorney, Scenic Hudson, Inc.
Tel: 845 891 3148

HUDSON VALLEY, N.Y.—Scenic Hudson, together with a coalition of environmental groups including Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance, Sierra Club and Earthjustice, has filed an administrative appeal of certain provisions of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) recently published crude oil-by-rail rule.

Scenic Hudson and the other groups have asked DOT to abandon the inadequate emergency responder notification scheme codified in the rule. Emergency responders need additional information about train routes and threats in order to be prepared for oil spills and disasters. The notification scheme adopted in the crude-by-rail rule makes it difficult for emergency responders to obtain such information. The notification provisions in the rule mirror those designed for anti-terrorism planning and response and are poorly suited to provide communities with the information they need to prepare for and lessen the consequences of rail accidents and oil spills. In this case, DOT has caved to the railroads’ desire for secrecy by treating routing information as sensitive security information that must be restricted to a need-to-know-basis.

Scenic Hudson commends DOT for its May 28, 2015, statement indicating that its May 2014 Emergency Order—which required railroads with trains transporting one million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil to submit detailed notification to state emergency response centers—will remain in effect until further notice. However, the final crude-by-rail rule contains extensive discussion of information-sharing approaches that are in conflict with the May 28, 2015, statement.

Therefore, Scenic Hudson has asked DOT to codify the notification requirements in its May 7, 2014, Emergency Order, expand the types of hazardous materials subject to notification beyond Bakken crude, lower the threshold for notification requirements, and rebuff the railroads’ unnecessary desire for secrecy. The changes to the notification scheme in the final crude-by-rail rule were made without any opportunity for the public to review or provide comments.

DOT published a final rule on May 8, 2015, outlining new requirements for the design of tanker cars as well as other actions intended to improve the safety of shipping volatile Bakken crude oil by rail. However, while the actions appear to require a higher level of safety—calling for eventual braking upgrades and reduced speed limits in certain areas—Scenic Hudson remains very concerned that the new rules allow the most common and dangerous rail tanker cars (DOT-111s) to remain in use for an extended timeframe. Scenic Hudson also pointed out that the new federal protocols fail to address any of the dangers posed by shipping heavy Canadian tar sands crude by rail—an emerging threat in the Hudson River Valley.

The environmental groups highlighted that deficient DOT-111 railcars could remain in use for up to 10 years and could carry volatile Bakken crude oil for another five years. This means that communities and natural resources will remain at risk for a decade. Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson and the Waterkeeper Alliance assert that this is unacceptable and that the new standards need to be implemented immediately so that dangerous rail cars are taken out of service.

While the environmental groups commend DOT for selecting an upgraded railcar design, trains carrying fewer than 20 cars of flammable liquid in a continuous grouping or up to 35 railcars with flammable liquid dispersed through a train could continue to use the inadequate DOT-111 rail cars. This ignores the fact that almost all recent crude oil accidents that cost lives and caused catastrophic damage involve fewer than 10 tanker cars.

None of the new safety protocols takes into account the value of sensitive and unique environmental resources such as the Hudson River. The restricted speed limits only apply to high-threat urban areas, which in New York State pertain to just New York City and Buffalo. No robust rerouting analysis is required despite the heavily-populated communities and irreplaceable resources in the Hudson River Valley that will remain vulnerable to the possibility of great injury and costly damages.

Scenic Hudson is considering further legal action to challenge these aspects of the rule.

Billions of gallons of crude oil moving through neighborhoods and city centers

For more than a year, river groups, communities, elected officials and hundreds of ordinary citizens have been working together to put a stop to the transport of up to 6.3 billion gallons of crude oil traveling through the Hudson Valley every year. Our neighborhoods, our city centers and our most important natural resources lie directly beside this accident-prone “virtual pipeline” made up of trains, barges and ships. Without tougher regulations and stronger mitigation plans put in place, the shipment of volatile crude and heavy tar sands remains the gravest threat to the Hudson River in a generation.

About Scenic Hudson

Scenic Hudson works to protect and restore the Hudson River and its majestic landscape as an irreplaceable national treasure and a vital resource for residents and visitors. A crusader for the valley since 1963, we are credited with saving fabled Storm King Mountain from a destructive industrial project and launching the modern grass-roots environmental movement. Today with more than 25,000 ardent supporters, we are the largest environmental group focused on the Hudson River Valley. Our team of experts combines land acquisition, support for agriculture, citizen-based advocacy and sophisticated planning tools to create environmentally healthy communities, champion smart economic growth, open up riverfronts to the public and preserve the valley’s inspiring beauty and natural resources. To date Scenic Hudson has created or enhanced more than 65 parks, preserves and historic sites up and down the Hudson River and conserved more than 35,000 acres.