Protests and public hearings follow latest Columbia River oil proposal
Richard Walker • June 15, 2017
Spring chinook were journeying up the Columbia River, returning to their natal streams to spawn. Lamprey were returning too, as Native leaders, elected officials and environmental warriors gathered at Mosier on June 3 to protest against crude-oil rail shipments along the great river The People know as Nch’i-Wana.
On that day a year ago, a Union Pacific train carrying highly flammable crude oil derailed in Mosier. Firefighters battled for 14 hours to contain the fire. Residents and students at a nearby school were evacuated. An oil sheen spread on the river. The community of Mosier lost sewer and water service for days because of contamination. One year later, Mosier’s groundwater is still contaminated.
As people gathered here a year later, another battle against time was being fought on Nch’i-Wana, One hundred miles northwest in Goble, Oregon. The U.S. Coast Guard and two Oregon state agencies were working to contain and remove contamination from some 28 derelict vessels at a site that had been leased from the state for restoration of the River Queen, a former passenger ferry and tourist attraction.
Read more: https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/environment/coal-v-culture-battle-goes-protect-columbia-river/
Tuesday, March 14, 2017:
Since Monday, the San Luis Obispo County Supervisors have been holding hearings on the Phillips 66 crude-by-rail project. SLO County's Planning Commissioners had turned down the project … but P66 appealed to the Supervisors.
After two days of hearings and public comment from almost 200 SLO County and California citizens, the Supervisors voted. By a 3 to 1 margin, they also decided that building a rail terminal in the county, enabling hundreds of volatile crude oil trains to travel here, was against the public's best interests. The issues cited most revolved around health and safety … those including air, noise and visual pollution, and the very real potential of train derailments, oil spills, fires, explosions, injuries/deaths and property damage.
Supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson voted against the project. They were joined by Supervisor Lynn Compton, whose district would have been the home of P66's rail terminal. In favor was Supervisor Debbie Arnold. Supervisor John Peschong had recused himself based on P66 having been his client in recent years.
This decision is yet another victory for the power of people to defend their property and human rights, in the face of commercial organizations that seek to gain profits regardless of the cost to the public and other businesses.
P66 has yet to comment on how they will move forward … i.e., whether they will cancel their intentions for crude-by-rail, appeal to the California Coastal Commission, or pursue it in the courts.
But for now -- to the thousands of supporters who fought the fight directly and indirectly, who wrote letters to the editor, sent an avalanche of emails to government officials, who showed up at rallies and attended the hearings that seemed to never end -- your efforts counted! United, we can protect our families, our homes and our communities.
A new video from 350 Silicon Valley reveals the dangers of oil trains that Phillips 66 wants to run through San Jose -- which also brings it through Fremont.
The video calls for every resident of San Jose to reach out the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors to let them know how we feel about protecting our community. We call upon residents of Fremont to do the same. You can find their contact information here: http://www.slocounty.ca.gov/bos/BOSContactUs.htm
Oregon has asked the Federal Railroad Administration to place an open-ended moratorium on oil trains traveling through the state, because preliminary findings of an investigation into the June 3 derailment in Mosier suggest inspectors might not be able to detect the problem that likely caused the crash.
AN OIL TRAIN WRECK WITH UNSETTLING IMPLICATIONS
by Dr. Paul Rea, PhD
On Friday June 3, a “unit” train of 96 tank cars, all of them carrying Bakken crude oil, derailed just outside Mosier, Oregon. According to Progressive Railroading, 16 of the 96 cars derailed and 4 of them ruptured, catching fire and spilling 42,000 gallons of oil. All of the tankers were the new and supposedly safer 1132 models (http://www.progressiverailroading.com/union_pacific/news/Rail-fastener-may-have-caused-UP-train-derailment-report-says--48484).
Bakken is a light crude from North Dakota with a high gas content, leading to greater vapor pressure and higher flammability than most oils. While the amount of oil initially reaching in the River itself was apparently small, the presence of crude oil was very substantial in both the water and the sewage treatment plants of Mosier.
Now the tiny town must deal with its second oil spill from the railroad—this time one of 42,000 gallons, with 10,000 gallons clogging its sewage plant. The town’s sewerage now goes right into the Columbia. Some of the oil remains in wastewater lines; most of it will also likely end up in the River (KPFA “Evening News” 6.6.16).
The rest of the oil burned off, evaporated in the heat, soaked into the soil, or was skimmed off by oil booms in the Columbia, according to Judy Smith, EPA spokeswoman. It's not clear how much of the oil was actually captured (http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2016/06/after_oil_train_derailment_im.html).
Had more of the spilled crude oil reached the River, serious and permanent damage to wildlife, recreation, water quality, and water supplies could have reached catastrophic proportions. The potential for long-term damage was under-reported, however. Neither government nor media sources emphasized the fact that the Columbia provides drinking water for several million people.
Political Pressure with No or Limited Effect
US News reported that while the fires still raged, Mosier city officials promptly passed an emergency motion calling on Union Pacific (UP) to remove all oil from the damaged cars before its line was reopened. But UP just pushed the disabled cars aside, laid new track, and restarted operations. By Sunday June 5, the railroad was running more trains through the town; residents shot video of trains rumbling past crumpled and burnt oil tankers, some of them still leaking oil onto the tracks (http://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2016-06-06/oregon-residents-return-home-following-oil-train-derailment).
Questions of environmental justice arouse, since Mosier is a low-income community and about half of the residents at Mosier Manor are Latino.
Political pressure from high-ranking officials did have more effect. UP announced it would temporarily suspend oil trains through the Columbia River Gorge after Gov. Kate Brown, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici called for a moratorium. These Oregon officials demanded that Union Pacific not resume oil train traffic until the company thoroughly explained the cause of the derailment and provides assurances it's taking steps to prevent another one. However, the officials stopped short of calling for limiting other train traffic (http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2016/06/after_oil_train_derailment_im.html).
Establishing Cause and Accountability for the Wreck
According to The Oregonian, a preliminary investigation showed a failure with a bolt that fastens the rails to the railroad ties caused the crash, said Union Pacific spokesman Justin Jacobs (http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2016/06/after_oil_train_derailment_im.html).
However, statements about what caused the oil-train wreck indicate how railroads evade responsibility for derailments posing serious danger to public health and safety, as well as to the environment.
Herb Krohn, legislative director for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, the union that represents workers on the train, said the derailment occurred 18 cars back from the front of the train, on relatively straight track. “Generally with a derailment happens that far back from the head of a train, it is caused by equipment failure rather than human error,” Krohn explained (http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/oil-train-derails-in-columbia-river-gorge/).
Advancing a parallel hypothesis, UP claimed “some sort of track failure” had caused the wreck, although the track had been inspected “at least six times since March 21.” The last inspection took place just three days before the accident (Washington State Dept. of Ecology via AP, 6.5.16). An Oregon Department of Transportation rail safety inspector had examined the tracks in late April, finding 30 defects. Deficiencies included loose bolts and braces, but violations were not triggered and nothing was done (http://nebula.wsimg.com/49f255caecebf98121450b89dfa58450).
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that most derailments occur on track that has been “regularly or recently inspected” but where no repairs have been made. This neglect has to raise questions about the safety of aging bridges, trestles, and tunnels.
UP did not indicate that track inspections had revealed structural problems—and that the railroad apparently did nothing to rectify the deficiencies. Railroads have a tendency to generically blame “track failure” as though track condition, extreme train length, and the extraordinary weight of oil trains were not factors they control. Railroads take no responsibility for the delayed maintenance and crumbling infrastructure they enable.
According to Railway Age, “Just three weeks before the UP derailment, approximately 150 environmental activists blockaded a BNSF track leading to Shell and Tesoro oil refineries near Anacortes, Wash. These were led by the “Raging Grannies,” elderly women who pitched tents on the tracks. The three-day protest coincided with similar anti-oil events in Los Angeles; Albany, N.Y.; and Washington D.C.” (http://www.railwayage.com/index.php/news/up-bakken-crude-oil-train-derails-in-oregon.html).
In the short term, the most likely outcome will be that railroads will defy public and government pleas to improve safety and increasingly blame accidents on sabotage by opponents to their dangerous oil and coal trains.
Paul W. Rea, Ph.D., is a researcher, writer and filmmaker who lives in Newark California
An oil train traveling along the Columbia River Gorge derailed on Friday, June 3, causing an oil spill in the river and a fire that closed I-84.
The Oregon Department of Transportation originally said 11 cars in the 96-car train derailed, but updated that number to 14 cars Saturday morning. Four of the derailed cars caught fire.
The train was hauling oil from Eastport, Idaho, and was headed for Tacoma, Washington. It was carrying Bakken crude oil, a type of oil known to be highly volatile.
Read more coverage about the story from:
CA Atty. General Kamala Harris to the City of Benicia: Benicia’s Planning Commission and City Council have every right to deny a land permit for Valero’s Proposed Crude by Rail offloading rack
On Thursday, April 14, the City of Benicia received a letter from California Attorney General Kamala Harris disagreeing with City staff, consultants, and Valero Refinery.
The letter asserts that Benicia’s Planning Commission and City Council have every right to deny a land permit for Valero’s Proposed Crude by Rail offloading rack.
“For Benicia to turn a blind eye to the most serious of the Project’s environmental impacts, merely because they flow from federally-regulated rail operations, would be contrary to both state and federal law.”
“City Staff has asserted that Benicia is “legally prohibited” from denying the Project based on the rail-related impacts disclosed in the Revised Draft EIR. Valero agrees with City Staff, asserting, ‘the City Council’s hands are, in effect, tied by the law of federal preemption.’
“We disagree that the City is prohibited from considering the Project’s eleven significant and unavoidable rail-related environmental impacts when exercising its local land use authority.
“Where, as here, an oil company proposes a project that is not subject to STB regulation and over which a public agency retains discretionary permitting authority, it would be a prejudicial abuse of discretion for that agency not to consider all of the project’s foreseeable impacts in exercising its authority."
You can read the whole letter here.
By the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer
One of the benefits of serving as a local church pastor is that I get to work with a variety of people from many walks of life. One of the active members of my church is married to someone who drives trains (I'm not sure what his exact title is, so I won't fake it). I've shared my concerns about oil trains, especially trains carrying Bakken crude and Tar Sands oils (these oils are particularly volatile). This church member shared with me the recent edition of the Railroad Workers United newsletter, The Highball.
This edition (Winter 2016) has three significant articles on Oil Trains, two of them exploring the disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July, 2013. While train engineer Tom Harding and his Dispatcher face the possibility of life in prison because of charges relating to this disaster, "no officials at the Montreal, Maine, & Atlantic--the railroad on which the wreck took place—nor the company itself have faced criminal charges," one article notes.
Again and again, in these articles and in others, the RWU pushes the need for working conditions that increase worker and public safety and the need for better governmental oversight of the industry.
In the article on the "Crude Awakenings" conference held in Pittsburg, PA (November 13-15, 2015), Fritz Edler writes about how the railroad workers and their unions needs to work cooperatively with activists to increase train safety. The thing that the unions seem to miss (at least, based on this newsletter) is that we need to simply leave fossil fuels in the ground. Yes, oil is transported by many methods (pipeline, truck, rail, ship) and all pose dangers to the environment because of spills and explosion. And it could well be that some methods are less dangerous for some types of oils than others. But that doesn't change the fact that we need to leave over 80% of the known fossil fuel reserves in the ground so we don't raise average global temperatures by more than two degrees C. The safest course of action—in the short-term and the long-term—is to stop shipping it.
You can download a copy of the newsletter by going here and clicking the link for "Highball 2016 Winter."
by Tony Bizjak (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Benicia city planning commission, voting unanimously, dealt a dramatic setback Thursday to an oil company's plans to ship crude oil via train through Northern California, including downtown Sacramento, to its local refinery.
After four successive nights of hearings, commissioners rejected Valero Refining Co.'s request to build a rail loading station so it could import oil on two 50-car trains daily, despite a city staff recommendation for approval.
Several commissioners said they were highly uncomfortable with the plan, based on an analysis that says the trains pose a significant unavoidable health hazard to humans and other environmental risks along the route to the Benicia refinery.
City officials said they expect Valero, the largest employer in town, to appeal the commission's decision to the Benicia City Council. A Valero spokesman said his company is disappointed and will sit down to discuss next steps.
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