SCHUMER: NEW REGS ON DANGEROUS, CRUDE-OIL-CARRYING DOT-111 TANK CARS AT RISK OF BEING BOGGED DOWN BY PROLONGED ROLL-OUT – SCHUMER URGES FEDS TO EXPEDITE RULEMAKING & STICK TO TOUGHEST POSSIBLE REGS, INCLUDING CRITICAL TWO-YEAR PHASE-OUT OF TRANSPORTING MOST VOLATILE CRUDE IN CURRENT CARS
After Major Schumer Push, Feds Have Proposed Rules That Would Phase-Out and Retrofit These Dangerous Tank Cars, Reduce Train Speeds & More – Regulations Currently Being Finalized By Fed DOT & About to Head to Fed Budget Office, Which Says It May Need Several Months To Finish Its Review & Make Final Rule Public
Schumer Warns Rules Often Get Stuck at This Final Stage, Urges Feds to Prioritize & Expedite DOT-111 Rules So They Not Get Held Up; Says We Cannot Afford To Wait – Says Proposed Rules Contain A Number of Options, Some That Will Enhance Safety & Security For Upstate NY Communities More Than Others; Senator Renews Call For Toughest Regs Possible To Help Avoid Major Disaster
Schumer to Feds: Stick to Toughest Crude Oil Transport Regs Possible & Move Rulemaking Along Faster
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer pushed federal regulators to expedite their rulemaking on DOT-111 train cars 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. Schumer’s call comes in light of word from federal regulators that the final proposal, due to the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) soon, could take several months or longer to finalize. Last year, following a years-long effort by Schumer, the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) released its proposed regulations, including reductions in train speed, tougher tank car design standards and enhanced communication with local first responders. In addition, the DOT proposed phasing out the DOT-111 tank car from carrying the most volatile type of crude within two years. Schumer said that both DOT and OMB must stick to the toughest regulations possible, including this two-year phase-out, and he will push OMB to get the final rules out the door as quickly as possible. Schumer said that with over one hundred trains with these tank cars crisscrossing Upstate New York each month, we cannot afford to wait months on end for new rules or to weaken the regulations in any way.
“I have been fighting for well over a year now, since the Lac-Megantic disaster, to get the DOT to issue a final rule requiring the phase-out or retrofitting of outdated tanker cars, and they are finally on the doorstep. But these dangerous trains have not pulled into the station for good just yet,” said Schumer. “That is why I am renewing my push today and urging the DOT and OMB to require the most stringent regulations when it comes to these train cars and to finish the rulemaking process as soon as 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.”
“Senator Schumer has been one of the most steadfast champions for a safer, more transparent crude-by-rail industry, and Riverkeeper is proud to join him in calling on the DOT and OMB to work quickly to get the dangerous, accident-prone, outdated DOT-111s off the rails. Until this happens, and the DOT takes other necessary steps toward improving rail safety and infrastructure, our communities, and the Hudson River, are at imminent risk,” said Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River Program Director for Riverkeeper.
Schumer has long advocated for stricter regulations on the DOT-111 train cars, particularly the proposed two-year phase-out. Schumer explained that the majority of these DOT-111 cars that carry crude oil are severely outdated and are prone to rupture upon derailment, creating a potentially disastrous explosion. Schumer has been fighting for a year and a half to have the DOT issue a final rule requiring the phase-out or retrofitting of these outdated tank cars. And the DOT is now set to send its final rule proposal to the OMB soon. The OMB is the final remaining hurdle before the final rule becomes public and gets enacted.
Schumer said that he has two major priorities in relation to the final step in the rulemaking process. First, he urged DOT and OMB to ensure these regulations are as tough as possible, and that the final rule include the two-year phase-out, significant reductions in train speed, the toughest possible tank car design standards and enhanced communication with local first responders. Schumer explained that all of these regulations were included in DOT’s initial rule proposal, which was released earlier this year, but he urged DOT and OMB to remain committed to the strictest possible standards despite pressures from industry to water them down. In addition, Schumer said that the initial rule proposal spelled out several options that DOT was considering for the final rule, and some of those options are more stringent than others. For example, Schumer said, as part of the final rule, DOT could just require speed limits but not significantly safer car standards or they could require safer car standards but without a hard cap on when the older cars must come off the rails. Schumer said that DOT and OMB must remain committed to the toughest regulations across the board.
Schumer said that in addition to stringent safety standards, he is also pushing the OMB to expeditiously approve final rules. Currently, according to federal regulators, the OMB could take several months or longer to finalize these new rules and Schumer said that these DOT-111 cars pose too big of a danger for there to be any delay, and he urged Shaun Donovan, Director of the OMB to move these rules through his agency as quickly as possible. Schumer said he has seen many instances where rules have lingered at the final stage of the process for far too long and he does not want to see that be the case with the DOT-111 regulations. In fact, currently OMB has 5 rules from the Department of Transportation alone that have been under review for longer than 90 days. Schumer said that, at times, rules have been held up at OMB for months or even years. This past year alone, there were 5 rules from the DOT that were stuck at OMB for over 90 days, which is why Schumer is proactively calling on OMB not to allow this rule to be held up in bureaucracy.
The CSX line carries 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.
Over the past year and a half, since the Lac-Megantic disaster, Schumer has taken several steps to address the safety standards of oil-by-rail transport:
- Since August 2013, Schumer has worked tirelessly to address issues associated with the hazardous materials these train cars carry through communities every day, namely pushing for the phasing out or retrofitting of DOT-111 train cars that are prone to explosion during derailments. Following previous crashes the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a series of recommendations, including to the Pipeline and Hazmat Safety Administration to require all service tank cars carrying fuel ethanol and crude oil to have protections and features that far exceed the DOT-111 design requirements. DOT-111 cars are not pressurized, unlike pressurized DOT-105 or DOT-112, which have thicker shells and heads and are much less prone to breaching during a derailment. The NTSB found that the heads and shells of older DOT-111 cars can almost always be expected to breach in derailments that involve pile-ups or multiple car-to-cart accidents. These cars, prone to failure in the event of a derailment, were involved in several high-profile spills, including the tragic explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec last year.
- In April 2014, Schumer pushed for better information-sharing among railroad companies and local first responders, who are often the first on the scene of a derailment. Prior to Schumer’s push, railroad companies carrying hazardous materials through New York communities were not required to notify local first responders when trains were coming and the type of hazardous material they were carrying, but a recent emergency order by the DOT now requires this information to be shared with essential local emergency personnel.
- In July 2014, following over a year of advocacy by Schumer, the DOT proposed a rule that would require railroad companies to phase out these crude-oil-carrying cars within two years or retrofit the cars with thicker shells because the cars have proven to be prone to rupturing and exploding during derailments.
- In October, in light of efforts by industry groups to extend the timeline for phasing-out dangerous DOT-111 tank cars, Schumer called on the federal DOT to stay the course and stick to the two-year phase-out it had already proposed. Schumer explained, leading industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute (API), the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), and Association of American Railroads (AAR) proposed extending the phase-out timeline to up to ten years, despite the dangerous and unsafe nature of these tank cars. Schumer therefore urged the DOT to keep the two-year phase-out intact as it finalizes the rule. Schumer said a phase-out that could last 10 years would be disastrous for Upstate New York and Hudson Valley communities where these trains travel each day.
A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the OMB appears below:
Dear Director Donovan:
I write to urge you to complete your review of the Department of Transportation’s draft proposal to phase-out or retrofit existing DOT-111 tank cars used to transport crude oil as soon as possible. I also urge you to stay the course on the planned two-year phase-out of transporting the most volatile crude in these cars, and ensure that the regulations are as stringent as possible.
The flaws in DOT-111 cars, which represent 69% of the national tank fleet carrying crude oil and ethanol, are well known and were made even more apparent with last year’s tragic derailment in Lac-Megantic, Canada, which killed 47 people and incinerated the town’s center. OMB must complete its review of DOT’s rule as soon as possible in order to prevent another derailment that could endanger lives and cause significant economic and environmental damage.
Recent reports that hundreds of crude oil trains travel through Upstate New York every month—each laden with outdated and flawed DOT-111 cars that are prone to rupture and explode—are of serious concern. I urge you to move forward with a mandatory two-year phase-out of DOT-111 cars carrying the most flammable liquids as soon as possible, and to ensure that the new rules surrounding the retrofitted cars, speed limits, and other critical safety issues are as strict as possible.
The boom in the transportation of crude oil and ethanol by train can certainly bring economic benefits to communities, but the recent and substantial increase in the transportation of hazardous materials must also include meaningful safety measures. While I fully understand the importance of conducting a thorough review of this rule, the safety of many of our nation’s communities is at risk, and I ask that you swiftly complete your review of the rule to regulate these dangerous cars, while also making sure that the rule is as stringent as possible. Thank you for your attention to this matter, and please feel free to contact my Washington, DC office should you need more information.
Charles E. Schumer
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