Dems criticize Obama’s oil train safety rules

Congressional Democrats are criticizing the Obama administration’s new safety rules for oil trains, saying they don’t go nearly far enough to prevent disastrous incidents.

While Democrats were appreciative of the Transportation Department’s rules, they said that the phase-out timeline for old tanker cars should be much faster, among other problems.


“There is good news here and bad news here,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement after the rules were unveiled.

“The good news is that the standards for tank cars are tough and provide certainty, but the phase-out timeline lets the industry take too long to implement it,” he said.

Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellAgainst mounting odds, Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden meets with bipartisan lawmakers for infrastructure negotiations Senate Republicans label Biden infrastructure plan a 'slush fund' MORE (D-Wash.), top Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee, objected both to the timeline for getting old tank cars out of crude oil service and to the lack of regulations on the volatility of oil being transported.

“The new DOT rule is just like saying let the oil trains roll. It does nothing to address explosive volatility, very little to reduce the threat of rail car punctures, and is too slow on the removal of the most dangerous cars,” she said in a statement.

“It’s more of a status quo rule than the real safety changes needed to protect the public and first responders.”

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx unveiled the suite of new rules Friday morning.

Later this year, newly built tank cars for oil service will need thicker shells, enhanced braking capabilities, and new shields to protect their ends and valves, among other features.

The oldest existing tank cars must be off the rails in 2017, but it will be 2023 before all of the existing fleet must be phased out, a timeline that some Democrats found unacceptable.

Rep. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoUnleashing an American-led clean energy economy to reach net-zero emissions Lawmakers press federal agencies on scope of SolarWinds attack OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine MORE (D-N.Y.) took issue with the timeline and with the specific speed restrictions only for certain urban areas, which would not include the area around Albany, N.Y., in his district.

“I am disappointed that DOT is applying additional speed restrictions to only High-Threat Urban Areas, which do not include any municipalities in the Capital Region,” he said. “Also, the phase out of older, inadequate tank cars is too slow.”

Green groups similarly argued that the rules are weak.

A coalition, including the Sierra Club, Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council, said old tank cars need to be banned immediately.

“Allowing hazardous tank cars to remain in crude service for 5 more years is disgraceful,” Patti Goldman, an Earthjustice attorney, said in the statement.

Not all Democrats were critical. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) called the rules “a needed and important step to improve the safety of transporting crude oil on the rails — which I have been pressing the agency to release.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) call the rules “a crucial initial step not only for first responders, but for residents who live and work in close proximity to freight rail lines who are watching an ever-increasing volume of volatile substances being transported near their homes and businesses.”

Republicans and the oil and railroad industries were also generally supportive, saying the rules provide an aggressive, yet achievable, set of standards and enough time to comply with them.