Environmental Groups File Challenge to Oil Transport Rules

A train with oil tank cars idling in Philadelphia last month. The government has issued updated safety standards, which critics say do too little and the industry says are too strict.

A train with oil tank cars idling in Philadelphia last month. The government has issued updated safety standards, which critics say do too little and the industry says are too strict.

Sierra

By REUTERS

WASHINGTON — Seven environmental groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday challenging safety rules issued this month for trains carrying oil, arguing that the regulations are too weak to protect the public.

The groups, including the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, said the rules, issued on May 1, would allow the industry to continue to use “unsafe tank cars” for up to 10 years. They also said the rules failed to set adequate speed limits for oil trains.

“We’re suing the administration because these rules won’t protect the 25 million Americans living in the oil train blast zone,” said Todd Paglia, executive director of ForestEthics, one of the groups filing the lawsuit.

The United States and Canada issued the safety standards in response to a string of explosive accidents that have accompanied a surge in crude-by-rail shipments.

Under the rules, tank cars built before October 2011 known as DOT-111 are to be phased out within three years. DOT-111 tank cars are considered prone to puncture during accidents, increasing the risk of fire and explosions.

Tank cars without reinforced hulls built after October 2011 and known as CPC-1232 will be phased out by 2020.

In their filing, the groups asked the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to force the Transportation Department to reconsider the “unduly long phaseout period” for these tank cars, as well as the speed limit and public notification requirements in the rule.

While environmentalists have said the phaseout for the tank cars is too long, energy and rail groups have raised concerns that it would not be feasible to switch over the tank cars in the time allotted.

The American Petroleum Institute filed a lawsuit on Monday in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that challenges the timetable for retrofitting rail cars and the requirements for electronically controlled pneumatic brakes.

The new regulations are expected to cost an estimated $2.5 billion to adopt over the next two decades, according to estimates contained in the rules. Two-thirds of that amount would go to retrofit or retire existing tank cars.

Sierra Club sues over coal dust from uncovered trains in Columbia River gorge

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups sued BNSF railway and coal companies in federal court today, charging that they pollute the Columbia River and other water bodies with coal dust from uncovered coal trains. This water sample from the Columbia is an example of it, they say.Motoya Nakamura/The Oreognian

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups sued BNSF railway and coal companies in federal court today, charging that they pollute the Columbia River and other water bodies with coal dust from uncovered coal trains. This water sample from the Columbia is an example of it, they say.Motoya Nakamura/The Oreognian

Scott Learn, The Oregonian, June 5, 2013

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups sued BNSF railway and coal companies in federal court Wednesday, charging that they pollute the Columbia River and other water bodies with coal dust from uncovered coal trains.

It’s the first lawsuit filed in the Northwest’s coal export controversy. Developers are pursuing three train-fed export terminals to ship Montana and Wyoming coal to Asia, two in Washington and one in Boardman at the Port of Morrow.

The lawsuit focuses on pollution from roughly four uncovered coal train trips a day through Washington’s side of the gorge to a coal-fired power plant in Centralia and export terminals in British Columbia.

Approval of the Northwest export terminals could add about 20 train trips a day and increase water pollution, the environmental groups charge. They want a federal judge to require Clean Water Act permits for the uncovered, mile-plus trains.

In statements, BNSF, union backers and the trade group representing coal companies and others pursuing Northwest coal export called the lawsuit frivolous and said it threatened to delay the export projects and jeopardize the jobs that go with them.

The lawsuit is “nothing more than a publicity stunt meant to stop the permitting of multi-commodity export terminals,” the company said.

The Sierra Club had a laboratory test debris in several places including alongside the tracks and the Columbia River, and the lab found it was coal, the suit says.

BNSF has estimated about 500 pounds of coal blowing off a single open car, the environmental groups note. But terminal and rail officials say most of the dust is lost near the mines, and the railroads are taking steps to limit dust, which can undermine track ballast and derail trains.

BNSF officials say the company has clamped down on coal dust from the trains in recent years, spraying sticky surfactants to keep dust down and having mines load coal in a “bread loaf” shape that reduces coal dust losses.

With U.S. demand flagging, coal terminal developers want to ramp up exports, carting in Montana and Wyoming coal on mile-plus, uncovered coal trains. The terminals could bring hundreds of millions in investment and hundreds of jobs, they say.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle.