Mike Rogge

Moratorium requested on hazardous material rail shipments

By Mike Rogge

Capitol Update, Dec. 11, 2014 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

On November 28th, Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) called on Gov. Jerry Brown to halt the transport of crude oil and 25 hazardous materials by rail "through our most treacherous passes."

The request by Hill came in reaction to a freight train derailment of a dozen cars last month in the Feather River Canyon with one railcar of corn spilling down an embankment into the river. The cause of the derailment is under investigation. The Feather River route through Plumas and Butte counties is used by at least one train a week carrying up to 2.9 million gallons of highly flammable Bakken crude oil from North Dakota.  More crude oil trains are expected to be coming into the state in the next few years, most of them traversing mountain passes deemed “high-risk” for derailments by the state Public Utilities Commission.

Hill wrote in his letter to the Governor, “Had [the] derailment resulted in a spill of oil, the spill could have caused serious contamination” in Lake Oroville, the state’s second largest reservoir and a source of drinking water for millions in the state.

Mark Ghilarducci, Director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said the state can't stop interstate commerce, but said the state needs to continue to work with the railroads to assure safer shipments. “These trains are going to come through,” he said. “We need to work together with the industry to put every safety precaution possible in place.”

Earthjustice and several environmental groups filed a petition in San Francisco federal court seeking to force the federal government to immediately ban railroad cars built before 2011 from transporting crude oil. The U.S. Department of Transportation last month rejected the groups’ demand saying that it is managing tank car safety issues through a series of directives, short of a ban, and rules are being drafted to phase out the older cars. 

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