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Riverkeeper Calls for Immediate Steps to Protect Public From Danger of Crude Oil Trains

Leah Rae, Riverkeeper, (914) 478-4501 ext. 238 or (914) 715-6821, [email protected]

After Disasters in West Virginia and Ontario, ‘What will it take for our leaders to act?’

OSSINING, N.Y. – Feb. 18, 2015 – In the wake of two crude oil train disasters in three days, Riverkeeper is calling for immediate federal and state action to protect communities and the environment from the imminent hazard presented by the virtually unregulated shipment of crude oil by rail.

“What will it take for our leaders to act?” John Lipscomb, captain of Riverkeeper’s Hudson River Boat Patrol Program, asked, in light of the litany of crude-by-rail derailment disasters that have happened in the past two years. “How many more derailments? How many more explosions? This is an unacceptable risk.”

Every year, billions of gallons of oil move through states like New York – over crumbling bridges, through pristine ecosystems, and alongside schools and businesses. New federal safety rules for the surging industry of rail shipment of crude oil are due out this May – months after they were originally slated to be published. But the plan is riddled with loopholes, and the most obvious step – taking the worst-designed, most dangerous rail cars out of service – wouldn’t happen for years.

Enough studies. Enough waiting. Riverkeeper and communities around the nation once again call upon the State of New York and the Secretary of Transportation to take immediate action to address the all-too-evident dangers threatening our communities, economies and environment every day.

The State of New York should act on its emergency authority to suspend the permits granted to Port of Albany oil transloading facilities, which facilitate this ongoing endangerment. The state Department of Environmental Conservation must then require an environmental impact statement prior to any possible reactivation of those permits.

The U.S. Secretary of Transportation must, based on the imminent hazard posed by crude-by-rail, issue an Emergency Order applicable to all crude and ethanol transport by rail that immediately:

  • Institutes a speed limit, taking into account rail conditions, environmental and public health risks, and community vulnerabilities, that protects the public.
  • Limits the length of these trains, as Riverkeeper and the Center for Biological Diversity requested last year, in order to limit the devastation which could result from the next rail disaster.
  • Prohibits the use of the 23,000 tank cars identified by the NTSB and PHMSA as being the most vulnerable and least resilient tank cars on the rails. These “worst” tank cars – which include both CPC-1232s and DOT-111s – should not be permitted for use in hauling any other hazardous liquids (such as tar sands crude oil).
  • Requires that railroads immediately develop comprehensive spill response plans keyed geographically to each county through which these trains travel. Such plans are required for vessels carrying crude oil, but not for trains – an unacceptable loophole that needs to be closed.

Monday’s derailment in West Virginia unleashed a huge fireball, destroyed a home, forced residents to evacuate and and closed downstream public water supply intakes. Another oil train derailed and exploded in rural Ontario Saturday night. These incidents follow a string of other rail disasters across the continent, most tragically the derailment and explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July 2013, in which 47 people lost their lives.

“No community should be subject to the real, imminent dangers that crude oil trains present,” said Sean Dixon, Riverkeeper Staff Attorney. “But the oil burning on the Kanawha River in West Virginia could as easily be on the Hudson River. Imagine the fireballs going up in our communities. Imagine our river on fire. Imagine our drinking water intakes closed.”

“The very same crude oil rolls through our communities and along our rivers, from Buffalo to Albany, along the Mohawk, down the Champlain Valley, through Hudson Valley communities like Albany, Catskill, Kingston, Newburgh, and West Nyack,” Dixon said. “The federal and state governments must act now to protect our communities, our river, our environment.”

Riverkeeper is a member-supported watchdog organization dedicated to defending the Hudson River and its tributaries and protecting the drinking water supply of 9 million New York City and Hudson Valley residents.


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