Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Oil train insurance minimums in question

Lac-Mégantic Quebec Oil Train Disaster 

Photo by REUTERS Wagons of the oil freight train that derailed and crashed in Lac Megantic, Quebec are seen on July 9, 2013

Oil train insurance minimums in question

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Letter to Warren Buffett: Put Public Safety Before Profit!

Oil train derails under Seattle's Magnolia Bridge
Oil train derailed under Seattle's Magnolia bridge- July, 2014

An Open Letter to Warren Buffett: Put Public Safety Before Profit and Prioritize Oil Train Regulation

Mike O'Brien,  Seattle City Councilmember     HuffPost    July 22, 2015

Dear Mr. Buffett,

One year ago this week, an oil train passing through Seattle ran off the tracks underneath the Magnolia Bridge, derailing three of its 100 tank cars carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota. Considering that unrefined Bakken crude is highly volatile, we count ourselves lucky to have avoided the catastrophic impacts these tank cars could have brought upon this city.

Today I write to you inviting an action that supports the best interest of Seattle and furthers your legacy as a leader of integrity for your generation. As local and federal policymakers grapple with the increasing risks oil trains pose to our communities, you are faced with a watershed moment. You can use your influence as the largest shareholder of Berkshire Hathaway, which owns not only Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF), but also Union Tank Car, to minimize the risk to life, property, and the environment from oil trains.

An oil spill in Seattle so close to Puget Sound could take millions of dollars to clean up and a generation to recover. Or worse, an explosion in Seattle could result in an untold loss of human life and property damage if it were to occur downtown along the railroad tracks that run a stone's throw away from the stadiums where the Mariners and Seahawks play. Frighteningly, these scenarios are well within the realm of possibility, as we have already seen five fiery oil train derailments in North America this year. Something must be done to protect Seattle and countless other cities across the country that bear the risk that your deadly oil trains pose.

I've done everything I know how to do as a citizen, an activist, and as a City Councilmember to try and stop an inevitable disaster from happening. But cities are severely limited in our ability to impose regulatory measures on oil trains. The federal government has primary jurisdiction to regulate railroad use and therefore has the most authority to mitigate the potential for tragic consequences associated with oil train accidents.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe and railroad industry representatives have used their influence to routinely oppose federal and state safety regulations such as speed limits, public information disclosure, liability coverage for catastrophic incidents, minimum staffing requirements on trains, and electronically controlled pneumatic braking systems. And as a result of industry pressure, Model DOT-111 tank cars full of crude oil will still be allowed on rail lines passing through Seattle for at least two more years, despite the fact that they have a "high incidence of failure during accidents" and "can almost always be expected to breach in derailments that involved multiple car-to-car impacts," according to a 2012 Railroad Accident Report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

This industry opposition poses disastrous consequences for which railroad companies are not prepared. The Bakken crude-filled oil train that derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec vaporized 47 people instantly. In addition to the terrible loss of life, liabilities totaled upwards of $2 billion and forced the railroad company into bankruptcy. Yet, as the Wall Street Journal reports, there is not enough commercial insurance coverage in the world to adequately cover the costs that would be associated with a worst-case oil train derailment in a major city like Seattle. 

Lac Megantic after oil train explosion, July 2013
Oil trains are ticking time bombs on rails, and each one passing through a small town in North Dakota or a large city like Seattle is a risk to the people and the environment of that community. We urgently need stronger federal protections against these dangerous oil trains rolling through our communities. So I urge you to use your immense influence in Washington, DC and around the country to call for the immediate passage of the Crude-by-Rail Safety Act.

This Act, sponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell (WA-D), Tammy Baldwin (WI-D), Diane Feinstein (CA-D) and Patty Murray (WA-D), would strengthen notification and disclosure requirements regarding oil by rail shipments, require refinement of volatile Bakken crude prior to transport, improve oil tank car safety, and establish comprehensive emergency response plans in the event of large oil train accidents. These regulations will provide far greater assurances than those given by BNSF or Berkshire Hathaway thus far.

On the one-year anniversary of Seattle's own oil train accident, I implore to you join me in calling for public safety over profit. I ask that Berkshire Hathaway and BNSF take full responsibility for the risks they impose on Seattle and other cities across the country. I call on you to use the full force of your influence to support the federal regulations necessary for the oil and rail industries to bear the costs and risks of safe oil production and transport. Doing nothing -- or worse, continuing opposition to new safety regulations -- puts the lives of the millions of people living and working along these railways in danger, jeopardizes your legacy, and could leave you with blood (and oil) on your hands.
Please join with Seattle and cities around the country in calling for the safe, responsible transport of oil by rail, and help us get out of this unjust situation where you make all the profit while we bear all the risk.

Mike O'Brien
Seattle City Councilmember

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hood River & Seattle eye Oil Train Resolutions, Emergency Order still stands.

 FRA to railroads: CBR Emergency Order still stands
The Federal Railroad Administration on July 22, 2015 sent a reminder to railroads transporting crude oil that the Emergency Order issued May 7, 2014 (Docket No. DOT-OST-2014-0067) requiring them to notify State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) and Tribal Emergency Response Commissions (TERCs) of the expected movement of Bakken crude oil trains through individual states and tribal regions remains in effect and “will be made permanent,” as previously announced.

Hood River County adopts oil train resolution

In their declaration, the County urged Oregon Governor Kate Brown to encourage federal rules regarding transportation of crude oil by rails. They requested that the state and federal government be more coordinated and prepared for potential disasters resulting from derailments.The most vehement provision calls on the state to place the responsibility of derailments in the hands of rail owners and operators. The document urges the state to “require owners and operators transporting crude oil by rail to assume all risk and to be sufficiently bonded and insured against the risk of catastrophic fire and explosion, loss of life and property, environmental destruction and damage and any other harm connected with a derailment or accident.” 
Hood River County Administrator Dave Meriwether asked commissioners if the resolution was suitable, or if they would prefer “a more forceful statement.”Commissioners agreed that the current resolution would convey the County’s concerns regarding the risk of fiery derailments in the Gorge without being “extreme.”“We’re not standing on the train tracks waving pitchforks,” said County Commissioner Bob Benton.
(Ed. note: Maybe it is time to stand on the railroad tracks & wave pitchforks.)

One Year After Derailment Under Seattle Bridge, City Takes Aim At Oil Train Risk

Listen to more: KPLU
A new resolution is going before the city council that outlines Seattle's wish list for regulations of crude oil shipments by rail.
It makes a series of requests to other entities on the state, federal and county levels.
“The reality is there’s not a lot of specific things that the city can do, where we have authority,” said Councilmember Mike O'Brien, the chief sponsor of the resolution.But, he said, city staff have spent "countless hours" researching what could be done to minimize oil-train risks. A senior policy advisor from the Mayor's office briefed the Planning and Land Use Committee on their efforts. The resolution codifies their requests and  points to specific federal laws they endorse.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Recent Derailment Speed and GH Port Commissioner Candidate Q & A

Officials: Oil train didn’t speed before Montana derailment

July 20, 2015| Fox News| BILLINGS, Mont. – A train that derailed and spilled 35,000 gallons of oil in northeastern Montana was traveling within recommended speed limits, federal officials said Monday as they continued to probe the accident’s cause.

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway train loaded with crude from North Dakota was traveling 44 miles per hour before Thursday’s wreck, U.S. Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Matthew Lehner said.

[Read the entire article here.]

Aberdeen -- A Q & A session with candidates for the Port of Grays Harbor Dist. 3 Commissioner’s race, sponsored by the Grays Harbor Coalition for Infrastructure, will be held at 6:00 p.m. July 23rd at the Furford Gathering Center(behind former Baskin Robins), 104 S Chehalis St., Aberdeen.
Come and hear the views from the candidates.  Incumbent Commissioner Stan Pinnick of Hoquiam faces challengers Jackie Farra, Ocean Shores City Councilwoman, and Richard Sinclair for the six-year, non-partisan post.  Sinclair is not confirmed at this time.
The public is respectfully invited to come and participate. For more information call 360-580-8564.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Timeline of Recent Oil Train Crashes in the US and Canada

[Ed note:  nine of the twelve incidents below involved fires and explosions.]

A Timeline Recent Oil Train Crashes in the US and Canada

Friday, July 17, 2015

CCST Report: Fracking pollution poses major risks

CCST Report: Fracking pollution poses major risks

[Editor:  Two contrasting reports on a recent California Council on Science and Technology report.  – RS]   

Repost from The Center for Biological Diversity

New Study: Fracking Pollution Poses Major Threat to California’s Air, Water

Scientists’ Warnings Come Too Late to Shape State’s Weak Fracking Regulations

July 15, 2015     SACRAMENTO, Calif.— A study released today by the California Council on Science and Technology warns that fracking and other oil extraction techniques emit dangerous air pollution and threaten to contaminate California’s drinking water supplies. Millions of Californians live near active oil and gas wells, which exposes them to the air pollutants indentified in the report.

The troubling findings come a week after Gov. Jerry Brown’s oil officials finalized new fracking regulations that do little to address such public health and water pollution risks.

“This disturbing study exposes fatal flaws in Gov. Brown’s weak fracking rules,” said Hollin Kretzmann of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Oil companies are fouling the air we breathe and using toxic chemicals that endanger our dwindling drinking water. The millions of people near these polluting wells need an immediate halt to fracking and other dangerous oil company practices.”

Last week the state’s Department of Conservation began implementing new fracking regulations and finalized an assessment of fracking’s health and environmental risks, even though the science council had not finished evaluating fracking’s dangers. The science council is an independent, nonprofit organization that advises California officials on policy issues.

Today’s report concludes that fracking in California happens at unusually shallow depths, dangerously close to underground drinking water supplies, with unusually high chemical concentrations. That poses a serious threat to aquifers during the worst drought in California history.

Air pollution is also a major concern. In the Los Angeles area, the report identifies 1.7 million people — and hundreds of daycare facilities, schools and retirement homes — within one mile of an active oil or gas well. Atmospheric concentrations of pollutants near these oil production sites “can present risks to human health,” the study says.

But Gov. Brown’s new fracking regulations do not address deadly air pollutants like particulate matter and air toxic chemicals. A recent Center analysis found that oil companies engaged in extreme oil production methods have used millions of pounds of air toxics in the Los Angeles Basin.
Among the science council’s other disturbing findings:
  • California places no limits on how close oil and gas wells can be to homes, schools or daycare facilities, which can expose people to dangerous air pollution from fracking and other oil extraction procedures.
  • Serious concerns are raised over the oil industry’s disposal of fracking waste fluid and produced water into open pits and the use of oil waste fluid to irrigate crops.
  • The health and water pollution impacts of fracking chemicals that could be present in oil waste that’s dumped into open pits “would be extremely difficult to predict, because there are so many possible chemicals, and the environmental profiles of many of them are unmeasured.”
  • Wildlife habitat can be fragmented or lost because of fracking and other oil development – and fracking-related oil development in California “coincides with ecologically sensitive areas” in Kern and Ventura Counties.
  • Confirmation that many oil industry wastewater injection wells are close to active faults — a practice has triggered earthquakes in other states. The science council identified more than 1,000 active injection wells within 1.5 miles of a mapped active fault — and more than 150 are within 656 feet.
“These troubling findings send a clear message to Gov. Brown that it’s time to ban fracking and rein in our state’s out-of-control oil industry,” Kretzmann said. “California should follow the example set by New York, which wisely banned fracking after health experts there concluded this toxic technique was just too dangerous.”

Contact: Clare Lakewood, (510) 844-7121,
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Repost from Public News Service

Report: Fracking Risk to CA is Aquifer Contamination, Not Quakes

By Suzanne Potter, July 10, 2015
PHOTO: A hydraulic fracturing well in Kern County. The safety of fracking is the subject of a new report. Photo credit: California Council on Science and Technology.
PHOTO: A hydraulic fracturing well in Kern County. The safety of fracking is the subject of a new report. Photo credit: California Council on Science and Technology.

SACRAMENTO, Calif – A new report says hydraulic fracturing can contaminate groundwater when the excess water is not properly disposed of, but is not linked to earthquakes in California.

In January, a study by the Seismological Society of America linked a series of earthquakes in Ohio to fracking, and there have been similar claims in other states as well.

The new study released Thursday comes from the California Council on Science and Technology and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Jane Long, the lead scientific researcher, says hydraulic fracturing poses some safety concerns but they’re manageable.

“A lot of things people were concerned about are things that are not as big a problem as they think they are,” says Long. “And some of the practices are things that need to change and need more attention.”

The report says the oil companies should phase out percolation ponds used to dispose of excess water because toxic fracking chemicals can get into the aquifer. And it recommends companies put aside about a third of the chemicals currently in use because there’s not enough data about them.

The Center for Biological Diversity points to the finding that oil operations can pollute the air in their immediate vicinity. Long is optimistic that the report will spur further reforms.

“Some of them are going to be recommendations that will be very easy to act on right away and I think they will be acted on and some of them are going to require some process,” she says.

The report was required by the 2013 passage of State Senate Bill 4, which established new safety measures for fracking, rules that went into effect on July 1.

Please share!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Letters to the Editor

This weekend, the Daily World published two important letters. Please write your own LTE and submit. Wouldn't it be great to see an anti-oil letter in each paper they publish?

Not too late to block oil projects
Hoquiam Mayor Jack Durney is either uninformed or is simply engaging in jiggery pokery. In the July 7 Daily World article highlighting his candidacy for mayor of Hoquiam, he says in reference to the crude oil terminals, “Once somebody applies for a permit, they’re in. As far as going through the process, you can’t block it.”

This is completely incorrect and nonsense. The original permits have, in fact, been blocked and the current permit application could also be blocked. And if the majority of the public has anything to say about it, they will be!

If Mayor Durney is being misled by advice from his City Administrator Brian Shay, that presents another problem, as Brian Shay is the final “decider.” If Mr. Shay has made up his mind to approve, before having all the facts and no matter how heinous the impacts might be, then he is doing a great disservice to the people of Grays Harbor and will be held responsible for that. The Washington Department of Ecology is spending countless hours working with the proponents’ consultants developing the Environmental Impact Statement. The public has made its voice heard through their elected representatives that they do not want crude oil to be transported or stored on Grays Harbor.

Why are we going through the environmental impact review if the permits can’t be blocked? Why bother with public hearings?

The City of Hoquiam holds the fate of the future of Grays Harbor in its hands. It has the power to say no. We all need to make sure they do the right thing.

Linda Orgel, Aberdeen

No to oil
July 6 marked the second anniversary of an event which everyone in Grays Harbor should be aware. On July 6, 2013, a parked train carrying Bakken crude oil rolled down a hill, derailed and caught fire in downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. The chain of fires triggered by the derailment devastated the town.
Forty-seven people were killed. Nearly half of the downtown buildings were destroyed; the other half had to be demolished due to toxic oil contamination.
The tragedy at Lac-Mégantic is a reminder of the devastation that a derailment of oil trains traveling through Aberdeen and Hoquiam could bring.
Having a clinic just feet from the railroad tracks makes me concerned for the safety of my patients and staff, should there be a derailment, as well as any other businesses or residences close to the tracks.
Add to the trains the compounding danger of the storage facilities at our port, which if built would put many of our community’s people and community resources in grave danger.
There are three proposed oil terminals in Grays Harbor. Together they would bring over 150,000 barrels of oil daily through our communities. That’s three loaded oil trains a day. That’s a risk that we’re not willing to take.
We are especially concerned about the human health and safety issues at stake if the three proposed oil terminal facilities are constructed on Grays Harbor. Whether triggered by equipment failure, human error or an earthquake and subsequent tsunami, huge risks of fire exist at rail terminal facilities that would store hundreds of thousands of barrels of volatile crude oil from the Bakken region in North Dakota and Montana.
Assuming the oil makes it safely through our community by train, it still must travel over our water. Again this is more than 150,000 barrels of oil a day. One accident could mean an oil spill to rival the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska.
We know too many people whose livelihoods are dependent on our water for this to make sense.
Physicians have traditionally employed the Prevention Principle in cases where dangers are known to exist. What we cannot cure — and surely, we cannot cure the deaths and severe burn injuries that could result from a major derailment or terminal fire — we must prevent. Lac-Mégantic and numerous other accidents have shown us that derailments, oil spills and explosions at petroleum handling facilities are known to occur.
Let us honor the victims of Lac-Mégantic by vowing to protect our own families and neighbors and speaking up to oppose crude oil handling facilities on Grays Harbor.
Over 300 health care professionals from all along the rail line, including Grays Harbor, have signed a letter opposing these proposed crude by rail terminals. And we are in good company with many leaders around the region, including elected officials, faith leaders, First Nations, fishermen and women, business leaders and concerned parents and grandparents.
We expect the hearings about these proposed crude by rail terminals to happen in the next month. To find out more and get involved, go to
Dr. Susan Ruyle and Angelique Rosche
- See more at:

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Billions Needed to Restore Wetlands Polluted by Oil Industry in NJ

Bayway Refinery
An aerial photograph shows the Bayway oil refinery complex in Linden, New Jersey.

Exxon New Jersey Settlement Under Fire Again As Environmentalists Seek To Join Lawsuit

By    International Business Times    July 10, 2015

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration wants Exxon Mobil Corp. to fork over $225 million for a pair of oil refineries that dumped toxic chemicals into New Jersey's soil and water for decades. But the sum is a drop in the bucket compared with the billions of dollars needed to remove pollution and restore nearby wetlands, environmental groups say.

The organizations this week are seeking to intervene in the case between the U.S. oil giant and the state of New Jersey. The Natural Resources Defense Council, which is leading the effort, will ask a state judge Friday to make the organization a party to the litigation. The move would allow NRDC to argue in court for a higher settlement.,,,,

.... At the center of the saga are two massive oil refinery sites: the Bayway refinery in Linden, and another in the town of Bayonne. The facilities, both more than a century old, leaked millions of gallons of oil and 600 different contaminants into the soil during the time Exxon owned the plants, a state judge determined. The pollution covers or is buried under about 1,800 acres of wetlands, forests, meadows and waterways.

Nearly 1 million New Jersey residents live near the refineries in mostly blue-collar neighborhoods. The area used to be a popular spot for fishing, hunting and kayaking, but much of the land and water near the plants is now unusable. Plastic booms still float at the mouths of some creeks to capture the oil and chemicals that continue seeping into the water.....   more here

Canadian gov’t adds new charges against unionist in 2013 rail disaster

BY JOHN STEELE   The Militant  July 20, 2015

MONTREAL — Almost two years after the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, rail disaster, which killed 47 people and destroyed the downtown core of the community of 5,000, the federal government agency Transport Canada has filed criminal charges against locomotive engineer Tom Harding for allegedly violating the Railway Safety Act and the Fisheries Act. Charges were also filed against five officials of the now-bankrupt Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, including CEO Robert Grindrod, as well as against the company itself. 

The July 6, 2013, train derailment and explosion put a spotlight on how the rail bosses put profits ahead of safety, especially the company’s insistence on operating with a one-person “crew,” with government agreement.

Harding is already due in court Sept. 8 to set the date for his trial on frame-up charges of 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death levied by Quebec’s crown prosecutor. Those charges could result in life imprisonment. The new charges could bring a $50,000 fine and six months in prison.

Harding is a member of the United Steelworkers union. Train controller and USW member Richard Labrie faces the same charges in Quebec, as does manager of train operations Jean Demaitre. The USW in Quebec has been raising funds to defend the two union members.

Transport Canada says the accused failed to ensure that the train’s hand brakes were properly set. The hand brakes were one of 18 factors that the report of the federal Transportation Safety Board said contributed to the disaster. Others included a “weak safety culture” on the railroad.

The company’s former owner, Edward Burkhardt, has not been charged.

The fact the federal government as a cost-cutting measure allowed the rail company to operate the 72-car crude oil train without a two-person crew was considered but not included as a “factor” in the final published report.

As he had done for years, in keeping with company regulations, Harding parked the train on a grade about seven miles from Lac-Mégantic with the engine running and the air brakes on. He set hand brakes on seven tanker cars and took a cab to a hotel to sleep.

During the night firemen were called to put out a small fire on the lead locomotive. When Harding asked his dispatcher if he should come because of the fire, he was told to go back to sleep because everything was OK. However, when the firemen shut down the engine they unknowingly turned off the air brake system. With no one on board, the train rolled down the grade, picking up speed, and derailed and exploded in downtown Lac-Mégantic.

In addition to the horrendous loss of life and destruction of 40 buildings, the explosion and fire released 1.5 million gallons of crude oil into the lake and contaminated 560,000 tons of soil. The charges under the Fisheries Act stem from the oil spill.

The explosion woke Harding, who rushed to the site, risking his life to help depressurize brakes on some of the cars that had not caught fire so they could be moved. For this reason, many in Lac-Mégantic consider him a hero.

Harding’s lawyer, Thomas Walsh, questioned the timing of the new charges against the engineer, criticizing the federal government for trying to look proactive after years of allowing unsafe railway practices like understaffing. “Now they’re coming out as if they’re taking care of business … by two years later accusing him [Harding] of something he’s already been accused of,” Walsh told the Globe and Mail. “What the hell is the point?”

“I agree there should be justice,” businessman Raymond Lafontaine, who lost his son, two stepdaughters and an employee in the disaster, told the press. But “it feels like we’re still looking for people to blame.” There are people higher up in the company that need to be held accountable, he said. 

Meanwhile, Canadian Pacific Railway, which hauled the oil from North Dakota to Montreal before handing it over to Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, is refusing to contribute to a $430 million settlement fund for victims’ families. The Calgary-based company argued in a Quebec court recently that it wasn’t involved. If Canadian Pacific is successful, compensation could be delayed for years.

The Steelworkers and fellow rail workers in Canada and the U.S. are raising defense funds for Harding and Labrie. To contribute in Canada, send checks to Syndicat des Métallos, 565 boulevard Crémazie Est, bureau 5100, Montreal, Quebec H2M 2V8, or go online to

In the United States, checks can be sent to Tom Harding Defense Fund, First Niagara Bank, 25 McClellan Dr., Nassau, NY 12123 or visit

Friday, July 10, 2015

Distortion and Secrecy: Oil and Rail Industries Fight Disclosure

 Methane data collected from Florida to California in 2010.

Oil & Gas Industry Mangles More Facts, Turns EDF Study Results Upside Down

Mark Brownstein, Vice President in the Climate and Energy Program at Environmental Defense Fund
HuffPost Green  7/10/15

Here we go again.

A new set of peer-reviewed scientific papers pointing to 50 percent higher than estimated regional methane emissions from oil and gas operations in Texas were published this week. And like clockwork, the oil and gas industry's public relations machine, Energy In Depth, proclaimed that rising emissions are actually falling, and that the industry's meager voluntary efforts are responsible.

This is, of course, wrong on both counts. In fact, it's a willful misrepresentation of the findings.

First, the assertion that emissions are going down is flat wrong. EPA's latest inventory released in April reports that in 2013 the oil and gas industry released more than 7.3 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere from their operations--a three percent increase over 2012--making it the largest industrial source of methane pollution. So much for those voluntary efforts.....  more here

Bakken oil trains rumble through downtown Milwaukee, leaving some city officials and residents afraid of what might happen if there is a spill and explosion, as has happened elsewhere.

Bakken oil trains rumble through downtown Milwaukee

Michael Murphy hits railroad for refusal to share bridge safety data

By Crocker Stephenson      Journal Sentinel   July 9, 2015    

A frustrated Milwaukee [ Wisconsin ] Common Council President Michael Murphy called for a change in federal law Thursday after Canadian Pacific railroad refused to share the results of its inspection of a rusty-looking downtown bridge.

The bridge crossing W. Oregon St. at S. 1st St. is used by rail cars carrying potentially explosive crude oil through the heart of the city. City engineer Jeffrey Polenske told members of the council's Public Safety Committee that Canadian Pacific not only refused to share the results of its inspection of the bridge, conducted in May, but also refused to send a representative to the committee to brief aldermen on the bridge's condition.

Polenske said the email he received from Canadian Pacific "went on to reassure us that they were following all federal regulations and standards and that the bridge was in compliance."

"There wasn't a whole lot of detail or specifics," he said.

Murphy appeared incredulous.

"The current structure is, Canadian Pacific evaluates these bridges and then tells the U.S. government or our state and local government, 'Don't worry about it. It's fine.'

"Why are we allowing a private company to determine our safety?"

Murphy said he wanted the federal law changed so that an independent agency — not the rail companies — would be responsible for safety inspections.

He also called on Wisconsin's congressional delegation to send a letter to the Federal Railroad Commission, signed by all, demanding release of the inspection's report.....    more here


 July 8, 2015  by Dan Zegart, Senior Fellow at the Climate Investigations Center

The former Department of Justice lawyer who led the watershed lawsuit against tobacco companies, says that the news out today about oil giant ExxonMobil knowing as early as 1981 about the threat posed by climate change could worsen the fossil fuel industry's liability picture. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pacific Northwest to See One Million Barrels of Crude Oil Per Day, 100 Oil Trains Per Week

Sightline Institute adds up oil-by-rail plans for Salish Sea, Grays Harbor, Columbia River.

SEATTLE // The Pacific Northwest stands to see over one million barrels of crude oil per day and more than 100 loaded oil trains per week roll through the region, according to a report released this morning by Sightline Institute.

The report details the 15 refineries and port terminals across Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia that are already operating or in planning or construction stages. All of them are located along the shorelines of the Northwest’s most important waterbodies, including Puget Sound, Grays Harbor, and the Columbia River, where a spill could prove disastrous to wildlife and local jobs

Initially designed to transport and handle light shale oil from the Bakken oil formation in North Dakota, the infrastructure notably could also be used to export heavy Canadian oil. Bakken oil is especially flammable, even after degasification efforts to reduce flammability. Even heavy Canadian crude, previously thought to be safer in transit, has been involved in several fiery derailments in 2015.

Residents and first responders across the Northwest have expressed serious concerns about oil and rail companies’ lack of forthrightness in informing them of oil shipments. This week, they are joining with groups across the country in the Stop Oil Trains Week of Action.

Eric de Place, policy director of Sightline Institute, notes, “I’ve compiled these numbers for three years running, and the plans have only grown in scale. The oil industry plans to flood the Northwest and a few other regions with unprecedented volumes of crude oil bound for distant markets.”

Find the full report on Sightline Institute’s website at or read more about it here.


Sightline Institute is an independent think tank providing leading original analysis of energy, economic, and environmental policy in the Pacific Northwest.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The ties that bind: A special report two years after the Lac-Mégantic tragedy

Lucas Oleniuk/Getty Images

The ties that bind: A special report two years after the Lac-Mégantic tragedy

Jesse Feith, Montreal Gazette    July 3, 2015

Two years after the train derailment that killed 47 people, Lac-Mégantic’s relationship with the railroad it was built around is complicated.
The town’s fate has always been intertwined with that of the railroad. Lac-Mégantic was founded after the tracks were put down in the late 1880s, and has relied on the rails for survival ever since.

Families moved ever closer to the railroad, and grew to trust it. Even as town officials lodged complaints about the decaying tracks over the last 20 years, that trust remained.

The importance of the tracks to this Eastern Townships municipality is such that they were repaired before many of the buildings that were destroyed when the crude-carrying tank cars exploded in the heart of town.

Despite the destruction now associated with the railroad, when the first train came through town five months after the disaster, many people saw it as the beginning of Lac-Mégantic’s rebirth.

Residents knew they had to set aside their fear and anger if the town was to survive economically. One out of six jobs in town still has ties to the railroad.

“We had no choice, really,” town councillor Richard Michaud says. “Hundreds of jobs depend on (the railroad) here, and we couldn’t risk losing them.”

But the trust is gone.

........Montreal Gazette reporter Jesse Feith and photojournalist John Kenney visited towns along the route linking the Bakken oil formation and Lac-Mégantic to explore the relationships between people and their railroads. Here are the stories they’ve brought back.....   more here

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Gateway Pacific: the Zombie Terminal by Terry Wechsler

Gateway Pacific: the Zombie Terminal

by Terry Wechsler

Some progressives now refer to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, or GPT, as “The Zombie Terminal,” because it Just.Won’t.Die.

The public stabbed the coal terminal in the heart roughly 14,500 times with substantive comments on the scope of the environmental impact statements (EIS) being conducted in accordance with the State and National Environmental Policy Acts (SEPA and NEPA).

The Lummi Nation attempted a decapitation with its Jan. 15, 2015 letter to the U.S. Army Corps Engineers (the Corps) in which Chairman Tim Ballew asked the federal government to immediately deny permits in accordance with the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855.1

The coal industry has tried to parry these blows with breathtaking brazenness by messaging on behalf of the economically disadvantaged Crow Tribe in Montana which happens to control one of the largest reserves of low sulfur coal in the nation. This fairly transparent and self-serving strategy has been surprisingly effective with political officials.

The Real Players
The National Mining Association created the Count on Coal Montana campaign which has recast the issues and characters and carefully orchestrated stakeholders to get on message. In a March 11, 2015, press release,2 the campaign quoted various spokesmen of the Montana coal industry who referred to GPT as “The Crow Terminal” (Count on Coal Montana and Montana Coal Council) and “The West Coast Crow Terminal” (Montana Contractors Association and Montana Chamber of Commerce). The groups’ website, however, does not list the Crow Tribe as a member.3

A self-described “grassroots campaign,” Count on Coal Montana’s members include cities and county commissions across Montana, business groups including the Montana Coal Council and labor organizations. Conspicuously absent from its supporters is the Crow Tribe.4

The notion that Montana’s taxing authorities, business organizations and labor unions support the permitting of GPT to benefit a Montana tribe is the latest salvo in a multi-pronged campaign invoking both the U.S. Constitution’s Article One’s “Dormant Commerce Clause” and the Fifth Amendment’s “takings provision.”

The Zombie Fights Back
Montana’s legislature recently approved $1 million in seed money for a litigation fund in the event Washington dared to invoke SEPA and deny permits for GPT.5 Perhaps the most aggressive action to date was the introduction by Montana’s U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, of an amendment to the 2016 national defense budget. If passed, SA 1809 would require the Corps to complete an EIS before making a determination under the Treaty of Point Elliott.6       -continued below-