Green groups sue DOT over crude oil trains

Green groups filed a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation (DOT) on Thursday for not responding to calls to ban the use of older rail cars carrying flammable crude oil.

The Sierra Club, ForestEthics, and Earthjustice are suing the DOT after the department didn't respond to a legal petition filed in July.


The petition called on the department to ban the use of an older rail car model, called DOT 111, which ships a majority of the crude oil extracted from the Bakken formation in the North Dakota region.

Earlier this year, the Transportation Department sent out alerts warning railroad operators, first responders, and oil companies that crude coming from the Bakken area was highly flammable, more so than other forms of oil.

Unlike newer, more resistant models, DOT 111s are prone to puncture on impact, causing spills and resulting in fires or explosions.

The environmental groups argue that while the department proposed standards for trains carrying crude oil, the new rules would allow companies to phase out the DOT 111s over three to six years.

“The Department of Transportation agrees these tank cars create an unacceptable public risk and need to be banned for shipping Bakken crude oil," said Patti Goldman, an Earthjustice attorney. "But the department proposes to expose the public to these unacceptable risks for four more years.  We can’t run the risk of another disaster like Lac-Mégantic, Quebec when 47 people died in a DOT-111 crude oil explosion."

Calls from lawmakers for the transportation agency to propose rules for trains carrying crude increased exponentially after a number of train derailments resulted in explosions and fires over the last year.

Still, lawmakers such as Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats shift tone on unemployment benefits Grassley meets with moderate House Democrats on lowering drug prices Four states emerge as test case for cutting off jobless benefits MORE (D-Ore.) and Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyDemocrat presses Haaland on oil and gas review The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to go-it-alone on infrastructure as bipartisan plan falters Democratic patience runs out on bipartisan talks MORE (D-Ore.) are concerned that the department's proposal doesn't go far enough in addressing crude oil coming from areas other than the Bakken.

Wyden said federal legislation "may be necessary" if the final rule isn't strong enough.

"First, let's see what the administration does with their rule and the state of play right now and then we will go from there," Wyden told reporters.

"I think it's got some gaps, which is why I said if it's not changed through the rest of the process, it may be necessary to have federal legislation," he added.