03.26.15

SCHUMER LEADS GROUP OF SENATORS FROM SIX KEY STATES IN FULL-COURT PRESS URGING FEDS TO RELEASE STRONGEST RULE POSSIBLE, AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, TO TOUGHEN TANK CAR STANDARDS FOR CRUDE OIL TRANSPORTATION BY RAIL

For First Time, Senators from Six Key States—Led By Schumer—That See High Volume of Dangerous Oil Train Cars Roll Through Their Back Yards Every Day, Sign One Letter to OMB Demanding That The Feds Immediately Finalize New Tank Car Standards – Letter Comes After Reports That Industry Lobbyists are Pushing Administration to Weaken Rules

 

After Major Schumer Push, Fed Dept. of Transportation Proposed Rules Last Year That Would Phase-Out and Retrofit These Dangerous Tank Cars, Reduce Train Speeds & More, But Fed Budget Office Has Already Missed Congressionally Mandated Deadline By More than Two Months, During Which at Least Two New Accidents Have Occurred

 

Schumer Brings Together Senators From New York, Ohio, Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin Urge OMB to Finalize Rule Immediately – Outdated, Dangerous Cars Pose Grave Danger to the Communities They Run Through

 

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that, for the first time, Senators from six key states that see a high volume of the transportation of crude oil by rail joined together to urge the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to quickly finalize tough, new, and comprehensive standards for the movement of these large quantities of flammable material by train. Schumer said that with the long-awaited rule to toughen these tanker car standards expected to be finalized soon, a full-court press is needed to urge OMB to issue the toughest possible standards immediately in order to protect residents from the existing, volatile oil cars.

 

Schumer has been a leader in the effort to get these highly dangerous tanker cars, including the rupture-prone DOT-111 and the unjacketed CP-1232 train cars, removed, replaced, or retrofitted as quickly as possible. Schumer has been on the front lines of this effort, and previously pushed federal regulators to expedite their rulemaking on these types of train cars, which are still being used to transport highly volatile crude oil across New York State even though they are putting local communities in danger given they are prone to rupture and explode during derailments. Last year, following a year-long effort by Schumer, the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) released its proposed regulations to be reviewed and finalized by OMB, including reductions in train speed, tougher tank car design standards, enhanced communication with local first responders, and the phasing out of the DOT-111 tank car from carrying the most volatile type of crude within two years. However, OMB has yet to issue this final rule and has failed to meet the congressionally mandated January deadline – a time during which at least two accidents have occurred, further underscoring the need for strict regulations. Schumer, along with Senators from  New York, Ohio, Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, urged OMB to issue the strongest possible rules immediately, in order to protect the communities whose backyards these trains travel through each day.

 

“Over the past few years, Upstate New York communities big and small have seen more and more freight trains laden with crude oil passing through their hometowns, carrying with them explosive cargo and inherent risk. And every day that an outdated oil tanker car is allowed to remain operational is yet another day that New York families must live in fear of a catastrophic oil train accident happening right in their own backyard. We have an obligation to protect New Yorkers and residents across the country by ensuring the feds release standards quickly, and that they are as strong as possible,” said Schumer. “That is why I have been fighting for well over a year and a half now, since the Lac-Megantic disaster, to get the federal government to issue strict rules on these dangerous oil tank cars ASAP. But for the last two months, this effort has been gummed up in the machinery of bureaucracy at the OMB – that is why I am turning up the heat and bringing other Senators on board. The feds need to know we mean business and expect them to issue the most stringent regulations possible. The people who live in these communities, who want to see tough, new safety standards, cannot wait on the grating gears of bureaucracy. These rules must now be approved and implemented in haste.”

 

For the first time ever, and following reports that industry lobbyists are pushing the administration to weaken rules surrounding the transportation of crude oil by rail, Schumer joined with Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Robert P. Casey (D-PA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Al Franken (D-MN), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) to urge OMB to quickly finalize a tough, new, and comprehensive tank car standard for the movement of these large quantities of flammable material by train. These Senators see a particularly high volume of dangerous oil train cars roll through communities across their respective states every day and, therefore, Schumer said, have a vested interest in keeping tanker car standards high in order to protect the residents and communities that are currently in danger given they are prone to rupture and explode during derailments. In January of 2015, following Schumer’s push, the Department of Transportation submitted a draft final rule to OMB for final review. Congress mandated that a rule be finalized by January of 2015 - a deadline that has already been missed. As a result, the Senators are urging OMB to ensure that the rule is strong and comprehensive and that it is finalized as quickly as possible, as further delays are unacceptable.

 

In the joint letter signed by these seven Senators, including Schumer, they urged OMB to issue its ruling immediately and to work in consultation with the federal DOT to take swift and decisive action to improve the safety of the nation’s rail network immediately. Schumer said that, across New York State in particular, the dangers posed by shipping crude oil by rail, particularly Bakken crude oil, have become increasingly clear. With hundreds of tank cars full of this oil traveling through the state every day, Schumer has worked over the past year and a half to better ensure the safety of residents by pushing to strengthen tank car standards that would make explosions less likely in the instance of derailments and breaches. Flaws and weaknesses in existing tank cars, including the highly dangerous DOT-111 and unjacketed CP-1232 cars, are well documented and result in a greater risk of catastrophic disaster should a derailment occur. These outdated cars, when laden with unstable crude oil, pose a significant risk to communities that they travel through. That is why Schumer has pushed for them to be removed, replaced, or retrofitted as quickly as possible. These outdated cars pose an alarming risk to the communities they run through, and continued derailments and subsequent explosions throughout the United States and Canada involving these cars, Schumer said, have demonstrated that danger clearly and plainly.

 

Schumer has fought over the past year and a half to make crude-by-rail transport safer for the communities across New York State where these trains travel every day. Most recently, earlier this month, Schumer pushed the federal DOT and the Department of Energy (DOE) to require oil companies shipping highly flammable Bakken crude oil through New York communities to stabilize, or make less volatile, the oil before it is shipped. This is just one part of Schumer’s all-of-the-above approach to make crude-by-rail transport safer, including making the actual Bakken crude oil loaded into the tank cars less volatile. In February, Schumer called on the federal DOT and OMB to expedite the release of these finalized rules and new comprehensive car standards for trains carrying oil in the wake of the West Virginia accident. Schumer’s call came on the heels of the news that the crude-oil rail cars that were part of the massive explosion in West Virginia this week would likely not meet the proposed rules and new car standards that the DOT is pursuing. Schumer said that the accident in West Virginia demonstrated that, yet again, weak, rupture-prone cars are endangering communities and first responders throughout New York and across the United States, and he urged the DOT and OMB to finally release their rule.

 

Crude oil transportation via rail is extremely prevalent throughout New York State, making it particularly important that these train cars are made safer for the sake of the communities they travel through every day. CSX lines carry crude from Buffalo through Rochester, Syracuse and Utica to Albany, where it then heads south on rail lines along the Hudson River before skirting New York City on its way to New Jersey. The Canadian Pacific (CP) freight rail line brings crude down from Rouses Point through Plattsburgh, along Lake Champlain and Whitehall, Saratoga, Cohoes, and Watervliet to Albany. Some crude from the CP line merges with Pam Am Railroad at Mechanicville and heads east to Massachusetts. Most, however, continue to the Port of Albany where the crude oil is loaded onto barges or oil tankers to travel down the Hudson en route to refineries in Canada and the east coast.

 

A copy of the Senators’ letter to OMB appears below:

 

Dear Director Shaun Donovan:

 

We write today to urge you to quickly finalize a tough new comprehensive tank car standard for the transportation of large quantities of flammable material by rail. The transportation of crude oil by rail has taken off throughout the United States and currently hundreds of tank cars travel throughout the country transporting highly flammable crude oil each day. In January of 2015, the Department of Transportation submitted a draft final rule to your agency for review; we urge you to ensure that the rule is strong and comprehensive and that it is finalized as quickly as possible. It is imperative that the Office of Management and Budget issue this final rule without further delay, Congress mandated that a rule be finalized by January of 2015 - a deadline that has already been missed. Further delays are simply unacceptable given how dangerous these outdated cars are.

 

Flaws and weaknesses in existing tank cars including the highly dangerous DOT-111 and unjacketed CP-1232 cars are well documented and result in a greater risk of catastrophic disaster should a derailment occur. These outdated cars, when laden with unstable crude oil, pose a significant risk to communities that they travel through and must be removed, replaced, or retrofitted as quickly as possible. These outdated cars pose an alarming risk to the communities we represent, and continued derailments and subsequent explosions throughout the United States and Canada involving these cars demonstrate that danger clearly and plainly.

 

While we do not know exactly what was proposed in the final rule submitted by the Department of Transportation to your agency, we have seen recent reports that indicate that industry lobbyists have expressed opposition to both a tougher new tank car standard, as well as new braking requirements for tank cars. In addition, previous reports have indicated that rail and oil industry leaders have been pushing federal regulators to delay the timely phase-out of these dangerous cars. To allow these efforts to weaken the proposed rule in any way is simply unacceptable. These tank cars pose a very immediate and undeniable risk to communities all across the United States and your agency, in consultation with the Department of Transportation, must take swift and decisive action to improve the safety of our nation’s rail network immediately.

 

While many of us have previously written to you on this important issue, we want to be as clear as possible in stating that we are united in our push for strong safety rules for the safe transport of hazardous materials by rail, and we will continue this unified push until our goal is achieved. We appreciate your attention to this issue; should you need further information or if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact our offices.  

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

Senator Robert P. Casey (D-PA)

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

Senator Al Franken (D-MN)

Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL)

Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)

 

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