Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

A 'bomb train' protest in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, earlier this year. (Photo: Light Brigading)

Weak Oil-Train Regulations Don't Go Nearly Far Enough, Experts Warn

Proposed rules prioritize industry over community and environmental safety

Deirdre Fulton

Environmental groups say the Obama administration's new crude-by-rail regulations (pdf), proposed Wednesday, don't go nearly far enough to reduce the risk posed by hazardous rail cars carrying oil and ethanol across long distances.
 
The proposed rules, which include a phase-out of older tank cars and new brake controls and speed restrictions, come in the wake of a crude-by-rail boom that's led to an increase in derailments and disasters like the one in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec last year that killed 47 people. A train carrying crude oil derailed in Seattle on Thursday, with no spills or injuries reported.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) acknowledges: "The safety risk presented by transporting Bakken crude oil by rail is magnified both by an increasing volume of Bakken being shipped by throughout the U.S. and the large distances over which the product is shipped. In 2008, 9,500 rail-carloads of crude moved through our country compared to last year, when there were 415,000 rail-carloads."
 
But the DOT's proposal, which will now go through a 60-day comment period, doesn't reflect that level of urgency, environmentalists say.

"Today the Obama administration announced weak new standards for high-hazard flammable trains that give the oil industry a license to threaten the safety of millions of Americans and leave communities and emergency responders holding the bag," Matt Krogh, ForestEthics campaigner, said in a statement. ForestEthics was specifically calling for an "opt-out" choice, through which communities could say no to so-called 'bomb trains' in their towns. 

Krogh continued:

The administration seems to have carefully calculated and managed the inconvenience of these rules to the oil industry, but they’ve severely underestimated the threat of these trains to the American public...The worst of these oil tanker cars are unsafe at any speed — they should be banned immediately, not years down the line. The maximum speed of these trains should be no faster than what a tanker car can safely contain without a spill or explosion after a derailment.

The DOT proposal would require old and dangerous tank cars be off the tracks starting in 2017. But more immediate action is warranted, said EarthJustice attorney Patti Goldman:

An immediate ban on shipping volatile crude in the DOT-111 tank cars is in order. That’s why we and our partners have called for an emergency ban of this type of outdated, accident-prone rail car. The public demands that the federal government crack down on automakers where there is a serious safety risk. We should do the same for the oil industry.

A report issued in May by Oil Change International described the "reckless expansion of crude-by-rail in North America" and indicated that oil-train capacity could grow to over five times current levels by 2016.

Ron Wyden, Democratic U.S. Senator from Oregon — where the amount of oil hauled by rail increased last year by 250 percent — said in a statement that the DOT's notification requirement falls short. As proposed, the rule would require only trains containing one million gallons of Bakken crude oil to notify State Emergency Response Commissions about crude oil barreling through their state.

“The failure to broaden notification requirements is especially baffling since the DOT’s proposal would classify all oil and ethanol shipments as ‘high-hazard flammable trains,’ yet would only require railroads to provide advance notification to first responders when that oil originates in the Bakken," Wyden said.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.

 

Right-Wing Justices Should Be Impeached for Lying Under Oath, Says Ocasio-Cortez

"We have a responsibility to protect our democracy," said the New York Democrat. "That includes holding those in power who violate the law accountable."

Kenny Stancil ·


'Infuriating': Biden Rebuked for Continued Opposition to Supreme Court Expansion

"What does Biden 'agree' with doing?" Mehdi Hasan asked. "What does the leader of this country want to do to stop the increasingly fascistic assault on our democratic institutions and basic rights?"

Kenny Stancil ·


'We Need Action': Biden, Democrats Urged to Protect Abortion Access in Post-Roe US

"The Supreme Court doesn't get the final say on abortion," Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tina Smith wrote in a new op-ed.

Kenny Stancil ·


Motorist 'Tried to Murder' Abortion Rights Advocates at Iowa Protest, Witnesses Say

Although one witness said the driver went "out of his way" to hit pro-choice protestors in the street, Cedar Rapids police declined to make an arrest.

Kenny Stancil ·


'A Hate Crime': Oslo Pride Parade Canceled After Deadly Shooting at Gay Bar

A 42-year-old gunman has been charged with terrorism following what Norway's prime minister called a "terrible and deeply shocking attack on innocent people."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo