Blog: The Fine Print / Citizen Health & Safety
Oct 9, 2015 by Amanda Starbuck
UPDATE (Oct. 9, 2015): The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is expected to release new standards today that address track inspection and maintenance. This follows the administration’s eight-month investigation into the February oil train derailment in West Virginia, which found that broken rail caused the derailment.
Broken rails account for approximately 15 percent of train derailments – more than any other cause. Yet railroad companies are failing to identify and fix problems. In fact, CSX – the company that owned the track where February’s derailment occurred – identified issues with the section of track in the weeks preceding the accident but failed to take action.
The new standards will require railroad companies to fix rail issues or slow trains when crossing sections with safety issues.
UPDATE (May 1, 2015): The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released their final rule today on crude-by-rail safeguards. These rules will apply to trains carrying certain amounts of flammable liquids, including Bakken crude oil and other flammable substances like ethanol.
The rule requires all tank cars constructed after Oct. 1, 2015 to have shells that are at least 9/16th of an inch thick. Older cars that do not meet this standard must be retrofitted within the next two to 10 years, depending on car type.
The rule also requires rail companies to adopt advanced braking systems over the next six to eight years, including electronically controlled pneumatic systems (ECP) that allow train cars to brake simultaneously and decrease stopping distances. The rule sets an overall speed limit of 50 mph for oil trains and a 40 mph limit for trains passing through densely populated urban areas while carrying cars not yet meeting the new tank car standards.
Unfortunately, the rule does not require railroad companies to notify state and local officials when they are moving crude and other hazardous materials through their jurisdictions. Instead, state and local decision makers must contact railroads to ask for routing information, and the companies are required to provide officials with the industry contact person who can address their questions. This is an unnecessarily roundabout way to disclose crucial information to those charged with protecting residents and businesses from health hazards and destruction in the event of an oil train derailment or explosion.
A bill introduced yesterday by seven Senate Democrats seeks to eliminate this communication gap and grant much-needed resources to local emergency response teams. It would require railroad companies to provide real-time data on train movements and would also raise revenue for advanced training on responding to oil train accidents. The bill would also speed up the phase-out of older, more dangerous tank car models.
UPDATE (Mar. 25, 2015): Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced legislation today that would create stronger crude-by-rail safeguards than those currently under review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Among other things, the Cantwell-Baldwin bill would require the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to limit the volatile gases in crude oil that is transported by rail. The PHMSA and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) rules currently under review require thicker tank car shells but do not regulate the crude itself, which is highly volatile and can explode during accidents.
The Cantwell-Baldwin bill would also ban certain classes of older tank cars, immediately removing 37,700 unsafe cars from use. It requires railroad companies to alert state and local emergency response officials when moving crude through communities and significantly increases fines for violations.
Original post from 2-18-2015
A 300-Foot High Fireball from an Exploding Bakken Oil Train: When Will New Rail Safety Standards Be Approved?
On Presidents' Day, a train carrying volatile crude oil derailed in Fayette County, West Virginia, igniting several railcars and creating a fireball 300 feet high. While no one was seriously injured, the incident is a stark reminder of the need for stronger safeguards to protect communities near the tracks that transport crude oil.read in full
Oct 9, 2015 by Michell McIntyre
During one of his early morning shifts, Jose Melena stepped into a 35-foot-long oven and began loading pallets of canned tuna at a Bumble Bee Foods plant. Not realizing Melena was inside, fellow employees shut the machine door behind him and turned on the oven. With temperatures reaching about 270 degrees, he was cooked to death.read in full
Oct 7, 2015 by Brian Gumm
On Oct. 6, Montgomery County, Maryland, located just outside Washington, DC, became the largest county in America to ban the unnecessary use of pesticides on lawns. Passed by a vote of 6-3, the new ordinance (Bill 52-14) prohibits pesticide use for purely cosmetic purposes. The policy firmly establishes the county government's role in protecting its residents from toxic lawn chemicals, including those that may cause cancer, neurological damage, or other health problems.read in full
Oct 6, 2015 by Ronald White
General Motors (GM) withheld information on defective ignition switches, Takata knowingly produced defective airbags, Toyota concealed information regarding unexpected vehicle acceleration, and Volkswagen (VW) deliberately violated clean air laws by undermining their vehicle pollution emission controls.read in full
Aug 21, 2015 by Brian Gumm
Farmers and scientists intimidated. Groundwater contamination. Human health risks. The decimation of one of America's most iconic wildlife species. These are just some of the problems we've seen thanks to Monsanto, the world's dominant producer of genetically modified crops, and Syngenta, a Swiss chemical company that manufactures controversial agricultural poisons. As an NPR story noted on Aug. 17, Monsanto wants to merge the two companies, a proposal that raises troubling questions about industry influence and impacts on our health and natural resources.read in full
Aug 20, 2015 by Ronald White
While solar energy typically receives the most attention as the “bright future” of renewable energy, there is strong evidence that wind energy will emerge as the “unsung hero” of the renewable clean energy movement.read in full
Aug 20, 2015 by Amanda Starbuck
UPDATE (Aug. 20, 2015): Earlier this week, the Obama administration announced its proposed rule to cut future methane emissions from oil and gas production. Methane contributes 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities that are warming the earth, so the rule is a step towards meeting our climate change targets.
However, disappointingly, the rule does not apply to existing wells, pipelines, refineries, and other infrastructure, which together contribute 90 percent of current total methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. The oil and gas industry produces almost a third of all methane emissions, so exempting existing facilities is problematic.
The rule also targets the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that pollute the air and contribute to smog formation, but as with methane, it only cuts them at new and modified oil and gas sources, and a limited number of existing sources.
Last week the, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to reduce methane emissions from landfills, which contribute nearly one-fifth of all U.S. methane emissions.
To date, however, there are only voluntary guidelines for limiting methane from the agriculture industry. Agriculture produces 36 percent of total methane emissions and is the single largest source of methane in the U.S.
On Jan. 14, the Obama administration announced its strategy to reduce oil and gas industry methane emissions by 40-45 percent over the next decade. This is a key element of the administration's Climate Action Plan for reducing greenhouse gases and curbing climate change.read in full
Recent Industrial Accidents in China and United States Underscore the Need for Urgent Action on Chemical Facility Safety
Aug 17, 2015 by Ronald White
On Aug. 12, an industrial accident in Tianjin, China killed at least 114 people – including 21 firefighters – and injured roughly 700 more residents. Another 70 people, including 64 firefighters and six policemen, are still listed as “missing.” It is just the most recent example of the catastrophes that can occur when countries don't have adequate safety requirements for industrial facilities.read in full
Senate Bill Would Make It Harder to Protect Lakes and Rivers from Pesticides -- Without Any Hearings
Aug 13, 2015 by Brian Gumm
Before leaving for Congress' traditional August recess, Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee rammed through a bill that would make it harder to protect our lakes, rivers, and streams from pesticide pollution. The committee passed the bill without holding a single public hearing on the issue.read in full