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Lac-Mégantic

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. 

Casey Jones in #LacMegantic

Video and Song by J.P. Wright - Railroad Workers United, June 6, 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. J.P. Wright is a member of the IWW and Railroad Workers United.

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.

Crying for Lec Megantic… and Learning the Lessons

By John Reimann - Oakland Socialist, February 26, 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.

On February 24, Marilaine Savard, from Lac Megantic Canada gave a presentation in Pittsburg, CA, on the train tanker car explosion that rocked that little town last July, killing 47 people (it would have been far more if it had been later in the morning) and destroying most of downtown. The explosion was of Bakken crude oil, the most explosive oil being pumped nowadays. The Obama administration has ordered “emergency safety rules” for transporting Bakken crude. Those rules are merely that the oil has to be pre-tested for explosiveness. That means absolutely nothing, and even if they did impose more rules, they will not be enforced, if simply by underfunding so there aren’t enough inspectors (a very common trick). From the well head to the refinery and all along the way, fracking is deadly. And that doesn’t even include how it adds to global climate disaster – global warming.

Here is a video of  Marlaine’s presentation:

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.

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.

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.

Rising Tide and Allies Shut Down Port of Vancouver

Portland Rising Tide North American - Monday, November 4th, 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.

Vancouver and Portland Rising Tide are joining with other friends, allies, and activists in the Pacific Northwest to shut down the Port of Vancouver, Washington, right now in solidarity with the ILWU.

This from Portland Rising Tide’s Facebook page: “Good morning Port of Vancouver, if you can’t keep your grain terminal safe for workers, how can you make an oil terminal safe? You can’t so this morning Rising Tide is shutting you down!”

The ILWU has been locked out of a grain shipment terminal by United Grain. “United Grain and its Japanese owners at Mitsui have failed to negotiate in good faith with the men and women of the ILWU for months and instead chose to aggressively prepare for a lockout, spending enormous resources on an out-of-state security firm,” according to a statement made by ILWU spokeswoman Jennifer Sargent earlier this year.

On July 15, 2011, hundreds of ILWU protestors blockaded a mile-long train coming into the terminal in protest. The struggle has continued through numerous actions of resistance, including this June, when ILWU members blocked a transport van from leaving the port.

Today, the ILWU’s struggle in the area is spilling over into a new terminal as Rising Tide activists are calling out the unaccountable and irresponsible behavior of the Port of Vancouver in both the ILWU lockout and the approval of a new oil terminal. The terminal would process 380,000 barrels of oil coming in by rail from the Bakken shale and probably the tar sands.

Many activists have pointed to recent oil disasters, such as the explosion of an oil train in Lac-Megantic, Canada, that incinerated the entire town square.

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