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Friends of the Earth Blasts Bush Admin Railroad Routing Regs

Posted Nov. 19, 2008 / Posted by: admin

For more information contact:
Nick Berning, 202-222-0748

Contact:
Fred Millar, 703-979-9191
Nick Berning, 202-222-0748

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Bush administration published new regulations today that allow U.S. railroads to unilaterally select dangerous routes through or around major cities for chemical railcars that the federal agencies call “Weapons of Mass Destruction.”

Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder had the following response:

“These regulations are part of President Bush’s failed homeland security legacy. This rerouting policy leaves our cities vulnerable to attacks on trains carrying hazardous rail cargoes. It is an abdication of government responsibility in the face of corporate power that endangers millions of Americans.”

Fred Millar, rail security consultant for Friends of the Earth, said:

"Cities and states will need to protest these new regulations vigorously, and once again Congress will need to re-address the rail routing issue. This Bush administration pretense of regulation must be replaced with real protections for target cities."

OVERVIEW OF THE NEW RULE: SAME AS THE BUSH ADMINSTRATION’S LAST FAILED ATTEMPT

The new rule is nearly identical to the one Bush administration proposed December 21, 2006, and which Congress subsequently found inadequate. The previous rule and the new one allow railroads to pick hazardous materials routes using assumptions and calculations that are kept secret from the public. They also allow virtually no role for state and local officials in these selections and preempt state and local rerouting legislation. Eleven major U.S. target cities, beginning in 2005 with Washington D.C., and including St. Louis, Buffalo and Chicago, and two states (New York and Tennessee) have introduced new rerouting legislation, and many major media reports have shown the easy accessibility to dangerous railcars in cities and railyards.

The new rule utilizes the same flawed regulatory techniques as the last one, ensuring that virtually no protective rerouting will occur:

1. It puts individual railroads (including the 300 or so relatively new shortline railroads which often link major rail lines and the chemical company shippers or final customers for the dangerous rail cargoes) in charge of analyzing their own current routes and alternatives to these “over which they have authority to operate.” The Department of Transportation appeals in the regulation to the “good faith” of the railroads—a flawed approach.

2. Individual railroads are allowed to make the critical decision to “weight” the 27 new “factors” they must consider (in Appendix D) —DOT declines even to rank order the factors.

3. Railroads are told they should “work with” state and local officials, but the latter have no role in any of the important route analyses or selections.

4. The information on analyses and route selections must be “restricted” to those with “a need to know,” and specifically are not to be shared with the public.

5. The federal agencies will not approve route selections, nor set up any kind of new oversight, but leave it to the current cadre of overburdened inspectors.

6. The agency suggests that rerouting will entail increased safety risks and economic costs that will override potential terrorist risks. The example DOT uses for calculating the value of the rule is the accidental release of one railcar of chlorine in the tiny town of Graniteville, S.C.—much larger disasters are possible.

7. Even if a railroad identifies an alternative route as safer and more secure, it may continue to use the one through the target city by implementing some unspecified “remediation and mitigation” measures [p. 20762].

8. The interim final rule is not effective until June 1, 2008, and gives the railroads another full year (until Sept 1, 2009) to implement route analyses and selections.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

As CSXT suggested already in the federal docket, since 9/11 the public has reconsidered what is an acceptable risk:

“The support of the public, and of many policy makers, has greatly eroded since 9/11. Now the railroads are harshly criticized for transporting these [TIH, or “ Toxic by Inhalation” poison gas cargoes] …Our company’s reputation has been assailed…[and] vilified in the media. TIH cannot simply continue to move by railroad indefinitely…Even if the potential for ruinous liability were somehow erased, the widespread social disapproval of TIH transport by rail would remain.” http://dmses.dot.gov/docimages/pdf101/456287_web.pdf

In response to public concern, Congress enacted, and President Bush signed on August 3, 2007 a new toxics rail re-routing law that embodies this new bipartisan national consensus: we should protect our target cities by re-routing, wherever possible, the through railcar chemical “security sensitive” cargoes to go around "high consequence areas" onto non-target routes. [See H.R. 1, “The 9/11 Commission Act,” Section 1551,]:

"The Secretary of Transportation shall ensure that the final regulation requires each railroad carrier transporting security-sensitive materials in commerce to annually review and select the practicable route posing the least overall safety and security risk …." The new Bush Administration routing rule, on the other hand, provides the railroads an astonishing total of 27 new “factors” to consider in their routing decisions, and with only minimal federal oversight “in the most extreme cases.” Most of these factors are so entirely non-related to terrorism prevention [such as “safety” and “commercial practicability”] that they are clearly 27 ways NOT to re-route.

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Friends of the Earth (www.foe.org) is the U.S. voice of the world’s largest grassroots environmental network, with member groups in 70 countries. Since 1969, Friends of the Earth has been at the forefront of high-profile efforts to create a more healthy, just world.

 

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