States push for stronger oil train limits

States push for stronger oil train limits
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Several state attorneys general are asking federal regulators to strengthen rules on trains transporting crude oil. 

The six attorneys general, led by New York’s Eric Schneiderman, filed comments with regulators Monday insisting the government set a more stringent limit on the volatility of oil that trains are allowed to transport. 

The filing with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) says the government should not allow trains to transport oil with a vapor pressure of 9 pounds per square inch or higher. 

Vapor pressure is a measure of a liquid’s flammability. The officials argued crude oil with higher pressure is more likely to contribute to explosive accidents, such as the one in Quebec in 2013 that killed 47 people.

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“These trains can carry crude oil through some of our most densely populated areas without any limit on explosiveness or flammability — creating ticking time bombs that jeopardize the safety of countless New Yorkers and Americans,” Schneiderman said in a statement. 

The attorneys general from California, Illinois, Maryland, Maine and Washington joined New York on the filing.

The request comes two years after the Obama administration finalized new rules for oil-by-rail operations. 

Those standards began a phase-out of existing oil cars and require new, safer cars take their place. The rules also changed train routing procedures and set new speed limits and first-responder requirements.

The standards, though, did not address the volatility of the crude oil within the oil cars. Late last year, the PHMSA asked for comments on whether it should tighten those standards, a move that came after high-profile rail accidents such as one in Mosier, Oregon, last summer. 

The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, an oil industry group, told PHMSA on Monday that it doesn’t need to tighten vapor pressure limits because “recent regulatory actions” and other federal rules are more effective at increasing the safety of oil-by-rail. 

“Further proceedings based on crude oil characteristics conflict with Congress’ considered judgment to delay further regulation until the completion of ongoing studies on the transport of flammable materials,” the group argued.

“Even if Congress had not done so, PHMSA has every reason to await the results of those studies before crafting any regulation that would impose enormous costs without any corresponding safety benefit.”