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Meeting Logs: Obama White House Quietly Coddling Big Oil on “Bomb Trains” Regulations

By Justin Mikulka and Steve Horn - DeSmog Blog, June 15, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

When Richard Revesz, Dean Emeritus of New York University Law School, introduced Howard Shelanski at his only public appearance so far during his tenure as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Revesz described Shelanski as, “from our perspective, close to the most important official in the federal government.”

OIRA has recently reared its head in a big way because it is currently reviewing the newly-proposed oil-by-rail safety regulations rolled out by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).   

During his presentation at NYU, Shelanski spoke at length about how OIRA must use “cost-benefit analysis” with regards to regulations, stating, “Cost-benefit analysis is an essential tool for regulatory policy.”

But during his confirmation hearings, Shelanski made sure to state his position on how cost-benefit analysis should be used in practice. Shelanski let corporate interests know he was well aware of their position on the cost of regulations and what they stood to lose from stringent regulations. 

“Regulatory objectives should be achieved at no higher cost than is absolutely necessary,” Shelanski said at the hearing.

With the “cost-benefit analysis” regarding environmental and safety issues for oil-by-rail in OIRA’s hands, it appears both the oil and rail industries will have their voices heard loudly and clearly by the White House. 

Enbridge Attempted Murder failed on family of Whistle Blower John Bolenbaugh at HELPPA.org

By John Bolenbaugh - helppa.org, June 11, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

BP Well Sprays Crude Oil Mist Over 27 Acres Of Alaskan Tundra

By Emily Atkin - Think Progress, April 30, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

A large pipe attached to a BP-owned well pad on Alaska’s North Slope has sprayed an oily mist of natural gas, crude oil, and water over an area of tundra larger than 20 football fields, state officials confirmed Wednesday.

The discovery at BP’s Prudhoe Bay oil field operation comes one week after federal scientists released a report warning that the United States is woefully unprepared to handle oil spills in the Arctic.

A statement provided by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said BP discovered the release on Monday during routine inspections, and that the spray was active for about two hours before it was contained. The pipe spewing the gas mixture was facing upwards while strong 30 mph winds blew, which ultimately caused the spray to spread over 27 acres.

It is unclear at this point how much of the mixture was released, the DEC statement said.

A spokesperson for BP did not immediately return ThinkProgress’ request for comment Wednesday about its cleanup effort, but spokesperson Dawn Patience told the Associated Press that it is “still assessing repairs.” Patience reportedly said it was too soon to determine long-term impacts from the release, but that no wildlife were impacted.

Federal scientists from the National Research Council recently confirmed the difficulty of cleaning up spills in the Arctic. According to their 198-page report, the Arctic’s environment is uniquely challenging due to pockets of oil that get trapped under freezing ice, sealing it beyond the reach of traditional cleanup equipment. The Arctic also lacks a variety of infrastructure, including paved roads, which could make response time exponentially longer than typical spills.

The Prudhoe Bay has experienced oil spills at the hands of BP before. In 2006, approximately 267,000 gallons of oil spilled from a quarter-inch hole corroded in a BP-owned pipeline, the largest spill in the region’s history at the time.

Federal Pipeline and Oil-by-Rail Regulator Making 9% Staff Cut, Confounding Experts

Federal Pipeline and Oil-by-Rail Regulator Staff Cut, Confounds Experts - Job cuts come at a time when PHMSA is struggling to regulate the nation’s aging pipeline network and new pipelines tied to the oil and gas boom.

By Elizabeth Douglass - Inside Climate News, April 24, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

If employees accept all of the available buyouts, PHMSA will shrink to a full-time staff of 386, putting it 112 jobs short of its approved payroll for the current fiscal year.

The federal regulator for petroleum pipelines and oil-toting railcars is offering employee buyouts that could shrink the agency’s staff by 9 percent by mid-June—a step that has confounded observers because the agency is widely regarded as being chronically understaffed.

Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) spokesman Damon Hill said the buyout offers are meant to “help the agency manage attrition in areas where a large and growing number of employees are eligible for retirement by offering an inducement for a limited number of employees to voluntarily retire or resign.”

Hill said PHMSA is continuing to hire in key areas at the same time. “I understand how some folks may be looking at [the buyout effort], but it’s part of an overall plan to retain expertise and plan for retention and things like that,” he said. “There is some good that comes out of this.”

Still, the job cuts come at a time when PHMSA is already under considerable duress. Politicians and the public have been pushing the agency to more rigorously regulate the nation’s aging pipeline network as well as the many new pipelines tied to surging domestic oil and natural gas production. A spate of damaging pipeline spills and oil-by-rail accidents is adding to the workload, exposing PHMSA’s shortcomings and intensifying scrutiny of the agency.

This Bay Area Town is Taking on Big Oil’s Expansion Plans - And Winning

By Ethan Bucker, US Organizer - Forest Ethics, January 24, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s

Just over the golden hills of Martinez, the descent into Pittsburg on California's Highway 4 opens a view of the Carquinez Strait. The strait is a narrow segment of the tidal estuary that accepts the rushing waters of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers as they empty into the San Francisco Bay. The vista paints a portrait of the transition to a clean energy economy: on the northern side of the strait, enormous turbines of the Shiloh Wind Power Plant revolve gracefully. Along the southern waterfront, an aging former PG&E power plant casts a shadow over massive, decaying fuel tanks next to Pittsburg’s newly revitalized downtown.

This is the stage of the Bay Area’s latest and biggest energy battle, between residents of Pittsburg and energy infrastructure company WesPac.

WesPac Energy wants to transform the PG&E site into a mega crude-by-rail facility, marine oil terminal, and refurbished tank farm. With plans to handle 242,000 barrels per day, the terminal would process one-fifth of all crude coming through California. The facility would deliver Bakken crude and tar sands to all five of the Bay Area’s refineries via new and expanded pipelines. In simple terms, WesPac is looking to turn Pittsburg into the crude hub of Northern California.

WesPac had been developing its proposal with the Pittsburg planning department for two years, but it wasn’t until a sunny Sunday in August 2013 that anyone really knew about it.

On this particular Sunday, longtime Pittsburg resident Lyana Monterrey happened upon a tiny notice in the Contra Costa Times for a public hearing on an environmental impact report. Alarmed at the tremendous risks and dangers posed by the project, Lyana knocked on her neighbor Kalli Graham’s door to tell her about the story she had read. Kalli and Lyana immediately started going door-to-door to alert their neighbors of WesPac’s plans. Neither of them had participated in community organizing before. They attended the city hearing the following day, met a few other concerned residents, and decided to take action.

“I just could not sit still. I could not do nothing about this,” Lyana recalled.

What started as a few neighbors raising their voices quickly grew into a tidal wave of community-led activism that’s swept the town of Pittsburg into the regional and national spotlight. 2013 has been tainted by a half dozen oil train derailments and explosions, including a deadly disaster in Lac Megantic, Quebec that leveled a small town and killed 47 people. So, the prospect of “bombs-on-wheels” (as one community resident put it) rolling through Pittsburg on the daily has set the community ablaze with fierce opposition to WesPac.

Two diverse community led groups--the Pittsburg Defense Council and the Pittsburg Ethics Council--have emerged within the last six months to lead the campaign against the WesPac project, alongside ForestEthics and other NGO allies. Together, we’ve gathered over 4,000 petition signatures, organized a riveting Toxic Tour of the city’s heavy industrial sites, and conducted a bucket brigade air monitoring project that reveals striking levels of pollution in the community. We’ve flooded downtown Pittsburg with lawn signs, mobilized a January 11 march and rally that brought out over 300 residents, and organized a rally that packed Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Community leaders are meeting with city officials, training and empowering volunteers, and generating dozens of media hits. We’re gearing up to come out in full force as the Pittsburg Planning Commission and City Council vote on the project in coming months.

Stop WesPac: Pittsburg Workers Stand Up

By John Reimann - Oakland Socialist, January 15, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Pittsburg, California, is a solidly working class town if there ever was one. Like workers in other parts of the country and the world, residents here are building a working-class environmental movement, in this case to stop the construction of a facility to receive and store the highly volatile oil from the Bakken deposit. 

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Here is a video of a protest on January 11 in Pittsburg.

This movement is taking up the most immediate effects of the destruction of the environment – from pollution of the air, water and soil to threats posed by tanker car explosions. Much of this threat is due to capitalism’s determination to burn every last drop of fossil fuel, and ultimately this working class environmental movement will have to take up the struggle for the alternatives.

More Crude Spilled in 2013 Than Previous Four Decades Combined

By Jacob Chamberlain - Common Dreams, January 21, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

More crude oil spilled from train accidents in 2013 alone than in the previous four decades combined—an alarming number reported by McClatchy News on Monday that points towards a drastic shift in the highly toxic, yet growing, crude oil business to rail transport.

According to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, in the four decades that such records have been taken between 1975 to 2012, U.S. rail spilled a combined 800,000 gallons of crude oil. This pales in comparison to the damage done in the 12 months of 2013, in which 1.15 million gallons of crude oil was spilled.

In total, U.S. railroads shipped 400,000 carloads of crude oil in 2013, or over 11.5 billion gallons.

"The spike underscores new concerns about the safety of such shipments as rail has become the preferred mode for oil producers amid a North American energy boom," McClatchy reports.

Another Oil Train Derailment – Rail Crews Call Them “Bomb Trains”

From the blog Railroaded - January 6, 2014 (used by permission)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Twenty-one cars and 2 locomotives of a mile-long Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway train derailed December 30, 2013, near Casselton, North Dakota, overturning oil tanker cars that exploded and burned for more than 24 hours (Star TelegramAsbury Park PressAssociated PressDuluth News TribuneValleynewslive.comAssociated Press 2McClatchy Interactive).

Another BNSF mile-long train carrying grain derailed first (13 cars) and some of the grain cars fell onto an adjacent track carrying the BNSF oil train. About a minute after the grain train derailed, the oil train struck one of the derailed cars filled with soybeans, causing the oil train to fall off the tracks. 20 crude oil tank cars derailed, of which 18 were punctured. Subsequent explosions and fires lasted for hours. One observer noted at least 6 separate explosions in the 2 hours following the derailments, which sent huge fireballs and clouds of hazardous toxic black smoke into the air. The fire burned so hot emergency crews didn’t even attempt to put out the blaze.

475,000 gallons of oil were spilled in the derailment, some of it burning off and some of it leaking into the soil. Investigators estimate that at least 7,300 tons of dirt contaminated with oil must be removed from the site.

Most of Casselton’s 2,400 residents followed a call from the Cass County Sheriff’s Office to evacuate the town due to health concerns about exposure to the toxic burning crude which can cause shortness of breath, coughing and itching, watery eyes. North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple visited Casselton and called it a “major catastrophe” that would prompt concern no matter where it happened.

A preliminary investigation by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) suggests the derailment occurred at a mechanical switching point between 2 tracks. The oil tanker cars that derailed and exploded and burned were the older-model DOT-111 cars which have been known for years to rupture easily in derailments and other accidents. The NTSB, Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada and most rail safety experts have been recommending for many years that the DOT-111 model cars be replaced or upgraded. Unfortunately, railway companies and shippers have been inordinately slow, and in some cases unwilling, to replace this antiquated model with sturdier built and safer models.

A Train Bound for Tragedy

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, October 18, 2013 (used by permission)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On July 6, a derailed oil train crashed into the small Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic, killing 47 people. The tragedy highlighted a distressing practice in the freight train industry: Namely, that thanks to technological developments over the last few decades, a single engineer might now be expected to operate a 100-car train. Because of the lack of oversight, say many railroad workers, that lone man’s mistake could end in disaster.

“The Canada accident really put the spotlight on what can happen if you have one person responsible for such a big piece of machinery,” says J.P. Wright, a locomotive engineer with CSX Transportation in Kentucky and organizer with Railroad Workers United, a national group of progressive labor activists including members from different rail unions, in an interview with In These Times.

RWU, along with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), has highlighted the Montreal disaster as an example of potential tragedies workers think will increase if the industry continues its push for one-man trains. 

However, Ed Burkhardt, chairman of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railways, the company running the Quebec train, tells In These Times that one-man crews had nothing to do with the July accident. He argues that the derailment, which occurred when the train’s sole operator left it parked unmanned to spend the night at an inn, could have happened with a two-man crew as well.

“This was a situation where the hand brakes were not properly applied. An employee failed in his duties there. It could be an employee of a two-man crew just as well as an employee of a one-man crew,” Burkhardt says.

But rail workers say that inevitable human errors or unforeseeable accidents will become more frequent and more deadly with only one person running a train.

Lac-Mégantic and the Presumed Innocence of Capitalism

The Lac-Mégantic disaster shows once again that capitalists  are self-interested, uncaring, anti-social actors, not worthy of presumptions in their favor.

By Harry Glasbeek - Reposted from Climate and Capitalism, July 24, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

“If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who creates the darkness.”

-Victor Hugo, Les Misérables-

It is always the same.

First the shock and horror, then the anger. A terrible environmental disaster inflicted by Beyond Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico; a horrendous explosion at Union Carbide’s Bhopal plant; a mine disaster, burying people at Westray in Nova Scotia; a factory building collapsing in Bangladesh; a train’s cargo exploding and incinerating people and the city of Lac-Mégantic.

Each time there are the same questions:

  • Why was anyone allowed to engage in this activity, given its known risks?
  • Why, more specifically, were people with poor reputations in respect of safety and/or people with little experience allowed to run these risky activities?
  • Why did governments not have better laws and regulations?
  • Why did governments not have better monitoring and policing of such laws and regulations they had enacted?
  • How dared the leaders of these risk-creating entities try to blame their hapless underlings?
  • How could they be so cavalier, so callous, so arrogant? Who was to pay for the compensation?
  • Should anyone go to jail?

The reasons for the shock and anger are obvious: the burned bodies, destroyed lives and livelihoods, ravaged environments, disrupted communities, misery all round. And each time, sombre-looking politicians and policy-makers walk around the sites, solemnly promise to learn from the event, assuring the stunned public that they will not let it happen again, that heads will roll if legal justice demands it.

Each time people are shocked and horrified because they believe that they live under a regime of a mature and civilized political economy.

They have been told that for-profit entrepreneurs care about their health and safety; they are taught that their elected governments will force entrepreneurs to put health and safety and environments ahead of profit-maximization.

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