Tuesday, May 5, 2015

DOT Caves to Railroad Pressure: Oil Shipments Again Secret

Crude Oil Rail Shipments Sabotage Freedom of Information Act

Forbes   05/05/15    James Conca

New regulations from the U.S. Department of Transportation declare that details about crude oil rail shipments are exempt from public disclosure (Tri-City Herald).

This ends DOT’s existing regulations that required railroads to share with state officials, and the public, information about shipping large volumes of dangerous crude oil by rail. These disclosure requirements were put in place last year after a Bakken crude oil train-wreck in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Now, railroads will only have to share this information with emergency responders who will be mum. And the information will be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act as well as public records and state disclosure laws (SSI)....

...the new regulations do cover critical oil train operations in terms of “speed restrictions, 
braking systems, and routing, and adopts safety improvements in tank car design standards 
and a sampling and classification program for unrefined petroleum-based products.” 
All good things long needed to address the growing dangers in rail transport of crude.

But after the Lynchburg derailment and inferno, the feds required railroads to notify emergency response agencies if shipments over a million gallons crude oil were going through their states. Railroads complied, but asked states to keep that information confidential.

Most states refused (McClatchy).

Since then, the industry argued that details about the crude oil rail shipments were sensitive from a security and customer protection standpoint and should not be available to the public....

....At first, the Federal Railroad Administration disagreed with the industry (Federal Register), saying that information about the shipments was not sensitive from any standpoint.

But they seemed to have quietly caved to industry pressure.....


Editorial: New rules on oil trains may block transparency 

Spokesman-Review  May 5, 2015

Days after the Washington Legislature passed an oil train safety bill, the federal government released regulations that could put the public back in the dark....

... The new state law requires railroads to provide to first responders the type and volume of oil shipped. That information is supposed to be compiled on a quarterly basis and made available to the public. However, the federal rules indicate the DOT has backed away from the notification requirements it issued as part of an emergency order last spring....

.....Railroads tried to get states to sign confidentiality agreements to keep the information under wraps. Some states complied, but most didn’t. As of last October, the Federal Railroad Administration said it didn’t agree with railroads that making the information public posed a national security threat.

But DOT’s new rules show that the agency eventually capitulated. Railroads still need to inform first responders, but the information may not be considered a public record. It isn’t clear how this will play out in the states. As of Monday, the governor’s office couldn’t be sure.....   more here

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