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Oil Train Explosions



Too much destruction, not enough regulation. A sign o’the times.

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  • rea

    The only thing more mind-boggling than three such accidents in three weeks is the continued lack of action by the Obama administration to protect us from these dangerous oil trains,” Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “The government has the authority to take immediate action to address this crisis — which puts homes, waters and wildlife at risk – and yet it has sat back and watched.”

    Is that really true? Wouldn’t they have to go through lengthy APA notice-and-comment procedures?

    • DrDick

      Yeah. Changes to regulations like this, while under the purview of the executive, have to follow a set procedure and it takes time.

      • joe from Lowell

        Currently in the pipeline (heh) are proposed regulations requiring stronger rail cars for oil shipments, and of course the 2-person crew rule the administration proposed, which Erik linked to last week.

        • Redwood Rhiadra

          Of course, at least one of the recent derailments involved the “stronger” railcars. (The West Virginia one, I think?)

          And if you include Canada, it’s not just 3 derailments in three weeks. It’s been one or two a week pretty much all year!

      • dr. fancypants

        They need to make some Schoolhouse Rock songs explaining administrative law.

        Chevron deference in particular seems like it’d make for a catchy song.

        • Hogan

          It’s the deference that makes all the difference!

    • Yellow Bellied Marmot

      The Center has petitioned the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for an APA rulemaking, but thus far to no avail. In the meantime, the Department of Transportation does have statutory authority to take immediate action under 49 U.S.C. 5121(d).

    • jmargolis

      It can be done immediately through an emergency order. The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (“HMTA”) directs the Secretary of Transportation to “prescribe regulations for the safe transportation, including security, of hazardous materials in intrastate, interstate, and foreign commerce.” 49 U.S.C. § 5103(b) (1)(B). HMTA specifically authorizes the Secretary to issue emergency orders:

      “If, upon inspection, investigation, testing, or research, the Secretary determines that a violation of a provision of this chapter, or a regulation prescribed under this chapter, or an unsafe condition or practice, constitutes an imminent hazard, the Secretary may issue or impose emergency restrictions, prohibitions, recalls, and out-of-service orders, without notice or an opportunity for a hearing, but only to the extent necessary to abate the imminent hazard.”

      49 U.S.C. § 5121(d). An imminent hazard is defined as “the existence of a condition relating to hazardous material that presents a substantial likelihood that death, severe personal injury, or a substantial endangerment to health, property, or the environment may occur before the reasonably foreseeable completion date of a formal proceeding begun to lessen the risk of that death, illness, injury, or endangerment.” 49 U.S.C. § 5102(5).

      PHMSA has set forth in great detail in its proposed rulemaking for enhanced tank car standards, Docket No. PHMSA-2012-0082 (HM-251), the hazards associated with high hazard flammable trains (HHFTs). The proposed rulemaking specifically states that “the growing reliance on trains to transport large volumes of flammable liquids poses a significant risk to life, property, and the environment.” This provides a basis for the issuance of an emergency order prohibiting the use of HHFTs until regulations can be promulgated to ensure safety.

  • Bufflars

    Seems like the Congressional Republicans should maybe be pushing hard for the Bakken pipeline to be approved by the relevant state and local authorities instead of continuing to rage about the Keystone XL. It would create nearly as many jobs (40 permanent positions!), would be transporting US oil instead of Canadian, would reduce the ridiculous number of rail and truck oil shipments currently endangering our travel-ways and the Obama State Department would have no say over its existence.

    Seems like a win-win-win-win, which I suppose means we won’t hear squat about it.

    • Well, win-win-win if you ignore the oil spills (pipelines, even now after the big railroads have gutted safety by paring train crews down to the bone, have much more spectacularly polluting spills than train wrecks; they aren’t, with notable exceptions, as photogenic as a train wreck, so they don’t get nearly as much press and don’t attract the attention of the more credulous environmental advocates.)

      • joe from Lowell

        You seem to be relying on a lot of implication to justify your superiority to those “more credulous environmental advocates.” Maybe it would be helpful to lay it our clearly:

        Are you saying that it is safer to transport oil by rail than pipeline? And that the people who say it is safer to transport it by pipelines than rail are incorrect?

    • Theobald Schmidt

      > Bakken pipeline

      > Republican congress at all interested in governance, policy, doing real work, or anything other than sticking it to the Kenyan

  • JustRuss

    If “eco-terrorists” were blowing up three oil trains a week, it would be on Fox News 24/7 and Congress would be declaring martial law to stop the evil perpetrators. But when the perps are wearing suits, it’s just the cost of doing business, whaddayagonnado?

  • njorl

    I have a strange desire to listen to Jefferson Airplane’s “Crown of Creation” album.

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