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IMG_0129The cost of solar energy has dropped so much that the Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC), the nation’s largest electric cooperative, which serves a large area to the west of Austin, has announced a plan to significantly expand investment in this clean, affordable energy source.

The measures adopted will encourage development of both large- and small-scale renewable energy, primarily solar.  For large-scale developments, the co-op will work with its main power provider, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), to continue expanding the diversity of its generation portfolio with the addition of wind and solar resources.  Utility-scale solar prices are now lower than electric prices from natural gas-fired power plants, with the added benefit of being fixed in price for 25-30 years.

Locally, the co-op will also build 30 megawatts of medium-sized solar installations, to be strategically placed at distribution stations and in locations near its biggest customers.  Some of these installations will be open member subscription through a new community solar program.

The co-op will also establish an on-bill financing program that will provide low-interest loans to assist customers with the up-front cost of on-site renewable (primarily solar) energy projects.

The strategies adopted are intended to help the co-op reach its 30 percent renewable energy goal and expand the use of distributed local solar while maintaining affordable rates.

“This is a big victory for the customers of PEC who began organizing to get solar and wind power programs 8 years ago,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, PEC member and director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office. “As a result of the efforts of its owner members, and the strong leadership of its board and executives, the co-op has developed the largest commitment to solar energy of any co-op in the country.”

PEC places a strong emphasis on reliability, providing excellent member service and keeping rates low.  Favorable renewable energy prices and a changing energy market that increasingly includes customer adoption of solar allow the co-op to meet all of these goals at once.  The co-op also just recently reduced electric rates for customers.

As water constraints continue in Central Texas, transitioning to renewable energy sources will help preserve precious water resources for domestic consumption that are currently allocated for energy production.  Wind and solar are drought-proof energy sources that require little or no water to operate.

PEC’s move to embrace solar puts the co-op in good company.  The City of Georgetown recently announced a large new solar contract that would help the city be powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2015.

TACThe Texas Senate is considering Senate Bill 10, which is basically a politicians’ protection plan.

Corruption in state government is so bad that Governor Abbott declared ethics reform an emergency shortly after taking office earlier this year.  But instead of making the tough changes necessary to stop corruption in the capitol, the Senate is about to vote on SB10, which will make it easier for public officials to get away with unethical and illegal conduct.  It’s another scandal in the making.

Email your state senator to let him or her know you don’t support the SB 10.

It has been suggested that SB10 should be renamed the “Corrupt Incumbent Official Indemnification Act.”  It creates a special legal system reserved for elected and other public officials, and constructs a complex maze designed to stymie criminal investigations and prosecutions.  If the bill becomes law, prosecuting a corrupt official will require the unanimous approval of the Attorney General, the Texas Rangers, the presiding judge of the judicial region where the accused resides, and a local prosecuting attorney.  This unnecessarily complicated series of review will operate as a political filter and give a green light for cover ups and continued corruption.

And the current attorney general may not be the best person to investigate others for ethics violations. On May 2, 2014, then-candidate Ken Paxton signed an agreed order with the Texas Securities Commission.  He admitted to referring clients to his friend’s investment company even though he was not a registered securities representative, and failing to disclose a 30 percent kickback he received on investment management fees. He claims it was an honest mistake but he should have known better.  While in the legislature, Paxton voted in favor of the statute that outlawed such conduct. And he later voted to amend that statute to specify that those violations are a third-degree felony. So how tough do you think Paxton is going to be on corrupt elected officials?

SB10 is based on a false premise: that the counties who elect public officials will hold them more accountable.  But how tough are members of the courthouse cabal likely to be on a wayward politician in his or her hometown? Historically, the good old boy system has been a powerful deterrent to effective and tough local prosecution.  Over the last 40 years we have had scandals in Duval, Hidalgo, Cameron and Dallas counties that involved corrupt elected officials who were protected by the local political machines. It often took bringing the FBI in to clean up the mess.

Home cookin’ - The bill’s sponsors suggest that fairness to the defendants in this special class of cases dictates that they be prosecuted in their home counties.  But criminal prosecutions of all kinds are generally tried in the county where the crime occurred—in public corruption cases, that is usually in the seat of government.  And in the vast majority of states, including Texas, public integrity cases are handled by a local prosecutor in the county where the offense occurs. In a few states, the attorney general prosecutes these cases, but again, usually where the crimes occur. Only one state—Wisconsin—has a “hometown venue with a hometown prosecutor” provision.

There are some who say that the Travis County District Attorney’s office is too partisan and are using that excuse as a reason to move prosecution of public corruption cases away from the seat of government.  The reality is that the Travis County Public Integrity Unit (PIU) has pursued public corruption cases in a non-partisan fashion. Of the 21 elected officials it has prosecuted since 1978, 15 were democrats and 6 were republicans.

What can be done to assure tough prosecution? After burying SB10 without a eulogy, the existing system, which works well and gets to the heart of corruption, should be fully funded.   Failing that, Texas needs to find the toughest independent prosecutors in the state and put them to work cleaning up corruption at the capitol.

So what can citizens do? Email your state senator and ask them to vote against SB10, the politicians’ protection plan.  For even more impact, call his or her office to make your view known.

Don’t know who represents you?  Click here to find out who your state senator is.  Contact info is below the jump.
Continue Reading »

Barilla Solar Project - Photo from First Solar

Barilla Solar Project – Photo from First Solar

The City of Georgetown announced yesterday that it will provide the entire city with clean, affordable renewable energy by 2017. This is thanks to new contract with Sun Edison to provide 150 megawatts of solar energy by the end of 2016 and the City’s existing wind energy contracts.

The primary reason cited by the City for choosing 100% renewable energy is to protect customers against volatile and rising fossil fuel energy costs and regulatory uncertainties. A recent Public Citizen report shows this is a wise financial move. That report demonstrates that shifting from coal power to alternative energy sources could result in significant savings for electric utilities and their customers. The switch will also save the Texas public in pollution-related health care costs and economic losses due to premature mortality.

Wind and solar are clean, safe, and financially sound energy options. As our report shows, it’s no longer clean energy that’s expensive. Now it’s coal that is too costly to continue.

Georgetown’s 25-year contract with Sun Edison will protect its ratepayers from natural gas price spikes and from costs associated with old coal plants. Wind and solar energy prices are predictable and affordable because they have no fuel costs and don’t pollute.

Switching to renewable energy also reduces water use. As water scarcity continues in Texas, drought-proof energy sources are increasingly important. Wind power requires no water and solar only uses a small fraction of what fossil fuel energy sources use. Water has been a limiting factor for energy production for fossil fuel generators and will likely continue to be in the future.

If more Texas cities follow Georgetown’s lead, our state will be in a better positions to tackle the challenges of reduced water supplies, unhealthy air pollution, and fluctuating fossil fuel prices. This is an exciting time, because utilities no longer have to choose between clean energy and affordable energy – they are one in the same.

Defend local controlThere are two bills up for a hearing on Monday, March 23rd that would impact the ability of local communities to pass ordinances to protect the well-being of its citizens around fracking.  We encourage all those concerned about defending their right to local control to attend the hearing and testify or if that is not possible, contact the offices of the members of the committee and let them know how you stand before the hearing.

 

HB 40 – Darby | et al. – Relating to the express preemption of regulation of oil and gas operations and the exclusive jurisdiction of those operations by the state.

HB 539 – King, Phil | et al. -Relating to the procedural requirements for the adoption of a municipal regulation, limitation, or prohibition on the production, storage, or transportation of oil or natural gas; authorizing a fee.

These two bills are scheduled for a hearing in the House Energy Resources Committee on Monday, March 23, 2015 at 2:00 PM or upon final adjournment/recess of the Texas House.  The committee hearing will be in the Capitol Extension in room E2.010.  The members of that committee are listed below:

Chair: Rep. Drew Darby 512-463-0331
Vice Chair: Rep. Chris Paddie 512-463-0556
Members: Rep. Rafael Anchia 512-463-0746
Rep. Terry Canales 512-463-0426
Rep. Tom Craddick 512-463-0500
Rep. Tony Dale 512-463-0696
Rep. Abel Herrero 512-463-0462
Rep. Jim Keffer 512-463-0656
Rep. Phil King 512-463-0738
Rep. Brooks Landgraf 512-463-0546
Rep. Morgan Meyer 512-463-0367
Rep. Debbie Riddle 512-463-0572
Rep. Gene Wu 512-463-0492

 

EPAGet the Facts on Consumer Costs and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan

For more information, view the fact sheet (PDF).

Today, the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce is holding a hearing on the legal and cost issues associated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule to curb greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants.

The rule, also called the Clean Power Plan, will lower consumer bills, benefit the economy and boost public health, while helping to combat climate change, according to a fact sheet released today by Public Citizen. Electricity bills will be 8.4 percent lower by 2030 and the plan will contribute between $260 billion and $840 billion to the economy over 10 years.

The state of Texas reserves the right to govern how much water can be pumped in order to protect its aquifers.

That is, in some parts of Texas.

Western Hays County residents protest Electro Purification water grab near Hays City Store. Photo by Bill Johnson.

Western Hays County residents protest Electro Purification water grab near Hays City Store. Photo by Bill Johnson.

When Houston based company Electro Purification received the rights for 1,3000 acres of land just outside the central Texas town of Wimberley, they planned to build seven test wells. Because the land that these wells are on isn’t part of any groundwater conservation district, they are outside of the state’s jurisdiction, so whoever owns the land can lease the water rights. In the long run, Electro Purification plans to pump more than 5 million gallons of water per day from aquifers to supply nearby growing suburbs.

Those that live around the area wells face not only a deterioration of the area’s financial capability, but also the corrosion of Hays County wells, streams, and springs. Dan Pickens, a local who can just walk one mile away from his house to find a test well, says

“When you can’t flush your toilet, do your laundry, cook, get a drink of water, life comes to a standstill. People’s life savings are tied up into their homes, and what’s a home worth without water?”

Electro Purification insists that the situation in Hays County is not a “water grab” and is perfectly legal. Furthermore, Electro Purification Ed McCarthy says that the water is used for “beneficial purposes”.

For those on the receiving end, like the city of Buda, it truly is beneficial. Just half an hour outside of the Capitol, Buda has been struggling for water resources for six years. Under their agreement with Electro Purification, Buda will receive 1 million gallons of water every day through one of the pipelines.

Hays County residents are enraged because Hays County has struggled for water resources for even longer. Locals have started boycotting businesses in Buda. Other local groups, like Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development, have started a petition in hopes of urging the state Legislature to take action to stop the water grab. One of the members, Jim McMeans, says,

A company has a moral obligation to use water and develop water at a sustainable rate.

There has been speculation that the loophole that Electro Purification found proves that there is no moral obligation. Meanwhile, locals are holding meetings, hosting take action websites, and starting a “Save Our Wells” campaign.

KXL protest - Texas activistsAccording to a press release by NRDC and Oil Change International, new data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) proves that, as President Obama has emphasized in recent comments, the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would serve primarily as an export pipeline, bringing dirty Canadian tar sands crude to the international market.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) says refineries in Port Arthur and Houston, which would be the primary recipients of crude oil delivered by the Keystone XL pipeline, have exported a growing share of their refined products over the last two years. In 2013, the percentage of product exported was 55%; in 2014 it was up to 60%, and by December of last year it was up to over 66%.

Keystone supporters have long argued that the tar sands the pipeline would transport would stay in the United States, and the president has taken criticism for his recent comments arguing that the tar sands pipeline would essentially “bypass” the U.S., including from the Washington Post “Fact Checker.”

But as Politico’s Elana Schor notes, “That ‘Fact Checker’ piece, however, largely addressed the export prospects of Keystone’s unprocessed heavy crude. On the question of whether the refined products generated by the pipeline’s oil would be sold overseas, it cited only a report by IHS, a consulting firm frequently hired by the industry.”

The oil industry and their allies can push out all the talking points they want about energy security, but the facts are clear: Keystone XL is an export pipeline, and would bring plenty of risks but no rewards for the American people.

 

sxsw-interactive-logoIf you are in Austin and registered for SXSW Interactive, check out this session today at 3:30 – Commercial Threats to Freedom of Speech Online

 

 

Friday, March 13
3:30PM – 4:30PM
Austin Convention Center, Room 10AB

Globally, there has been much attention paid to the threat that government entities may pose to individuals’ rights to speak and share information freely. However, far less attention has been placed on the role that bad acting companies and other commercial interests play in trying to squelch or suppress public statements and expressions online. From corporations suing respected journalists and news media for speech that they claim is libelous, to bad businesses suing users of online review sites for negative reviews, more and more often, people are finding their freedom of speech threatened online.

This panel of experts will discuss the current commercial threats to freedom of speech online and the possible solutions to this growing issue.

Presenters

  • Amy Austin is the Publisher of Washington City Paper, an influential and award-winning alternative news media company in Washington DC.
  • Evan Mascagni graduated, summa cum laude, from the University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law in 2011.
  • Laura Prather is an attorney with Haynes and Boone LLP in the Litigation Practice Group in the Austin office
  • Paul Alan Levy is an attorney with Public Citizen’s Litigation Group

2015-03-09 Anti Corruption press conferenceOn Monday March 9th, the Texas Anti-Corruption Campaign held a press conference calling for the end of corruption culture in Texas politics. The Texas Anti-Corruption Campaign is a new growing alliance between a wide group of nonprofit and political organizations, including: Public Citizen, Audits in the Public Interest, Clean Elections Texas, Common Cause Texas, Libertarian Party of Texas, Texans for Public Justice, and TexPIRG.

The citizen’s movement began as a response to the patronage and cronyism that became synonymous with former Governor Rick Perry’s Administration and has grown as more and more Texas agencies are being investigated for inefficiencies. As Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of our Texas office here at Public Citizen said:

We believe that the people are ultimately responsible to hold the government accountable in the face of rampant corruption and abuse of power. We are paying a corruption tax-billions of our tax dollars are being wasted through cronyism and corruption. We need to stop efforts to defund and handcuff our state funded watchdogs at the Public Integrity Unit and the Ethics Commission. It’s time to take the muzzle off and give them new teeth.

Ethical issues in government were highlighted in the State of the State in which Governor Abbott declared that ethics would be one of the five emergency items he assigned during the 84th Legislature. He said:

“The faith and trust that Texas citizens place in their elected officials requires each of us to conduct the business of the state in the most transparent and honest manner possible. Strengthening our ethics laws relating to disclosure of state contracts with elected officials, prohibiting lawmakers from voting on legislation from which they could profit and increasing disclosure of campaign finance information will ensure a more responsible government for Texas.”

The Texas Anti-Corruption Campaign applauded Governor Abbott’s call for change and hoped to use the momentum to promote good government reform in the legislature. To help solve this issue, the coalition developed a 10-point plan to make progress toward their goal of ending corruption in government.
Continue Reading »

Luminant's Big Brown plant near Fairfield, TX.  Photo by Tom Fox/Dallas Morning News.

Luminant’s Big Brown plant near Fairfield, TX. Photo by Tom Fox/Dallas Morning News.

We released a new report today that shows that shifting from coal power to alternative energy sources could save utilities – and indirectly their customers – several billion dollars in capital and annual operating expenses. The switch also would save the Texas public as much as $2.5 billion in pollution-related health care costs and economic losses due to premature mortality.

Using data from government, academic and industry studies, the report demonstrates that renewables like solar, wind and geothermal power are cheaper than coal, once the costs of upgrading plants to control pollution are factored in.

Renewables are a clean, safe and financially smart alternative to coal. Our report shows that replacing our oldest, dirtiest coal plants with alternative energy sources could save 21 to 24 percent in capital and annual operating costs. It’s no longer clean energy that’s expensive. Now coal is too costly to continue.

In coming years, six new or amended U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules will take effect, including the EPA’s tougher ozone standard for Texas, which was discussed during a January EPA hearing in Arlington. The EPA’s Clean Power Plan, proposed in June, will require Texas coal plants to reduce climate-change inducing carbon dioxide emissions, and other new rules will reduce levels of highly toxic mercury, make sure coal ash is disposed of safely and cut down on haze, which obscures views at national parks such as Texas’ Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains.

But while the long overdue rules will protect the climate and dramatically reduce health care costs, outdated coal plants will have to spend billions in capital and operating costs for pollution-control technology. We compared the cost of alternative energy sources to the price of coal power, once the expense of upgrading to meet new pollution rules is included.

The upshot: A blend of wind, solar and geothermal power, along with some natural gas, could easily replace the power generated by coal plants – and for less money.
Continue Reading »

Lobby day group photo 2

Citizen lobbyists working to defend local control on March 2 at the Texas Capitol. Photo courtesy of Candice Bernd, www.truth-out.org.

In an effort to defend local control, known as home rule, a group of North Texan activists traveled to Austin on Monday to lobby lawmakers at the Texas Capitol. Earthworks hosted the event, providing the transportation, education and guidance for the participants as they made plans to speak face to face with elected officials. They were joined by allies from Frack Free Denton, Public Citizen, Clean Water Action, and Environment Texas.

Defend local controlThe citizen lobbyists focused on speaking to legislators belonging to the House Energy Resource committee, House Environmental Regulation committee and the representatives and senators from their districts about defending the home rule rights of municipalities.

Texas has traditionally been a strong home rule state that allows local governments to pass laws to go beyond state laws. Some of the home rule issues included: fracking bans, bag bans, and tree preservation ordinances. Citizens are particularly concerned about several bills that would work to limit home rule:

House Bill 540: (Phil King) This bill would require cities to get approval from the attorney general’s office before putting a citizen’s initiative up for a vote.

House Bill 539: (Phil King) This bill would essentially require cities to pay the state for lost revenues resulting from local oil and gas regulations.

House Bill 1556: (Miller) This bill would limit certain regulations in a county, municipality, or other political subdivision

Senate Bill 440: (Konni Burton) This bill would prohibit cities or counties from banning hydraulic fracturing.

Senate Bill 720: (Konni Burton) This bill would prohibit Extraterritorial jurisdictions (ETJs) from banning hydraulic fracturing.

Senate Bill 343: (Don Huffines) This bill would effectively eliminate home rule for Texas cities by requiring local laws to conform to state laws.

Senate Bill 360: (Estes) This bill would significantly lower the bar for what is considered a regulatory taking, remove the ability of local governments to regulate development to ensure health and safety in a variety of ways, and expand the timeframe for bringing suit when regulations are adopted. Among other impacts it would limit the ability of local government to adopt local drilling ordinances.

Senate Bill 710: (Burton) This bill would establish the parameters of a municipal government designated as a Liberty City (a new form of a general-law municipality)

Lobby day group photo 1

Texans gathered to defend local control on March 2. Photo courtesy of Candice Bernd, www.truth-out.org.

Thus far, there have been many bills filled this session that could take away a city’s right to pass rules to protect the public. As a result, it is important for constituents to make their elected officials know what their concerns are when it comes to local control and how the citizens’ efforts can be better represented in the legislature.

If you are interested in learning more about local control issues, you can visit Local Control Texas for more information.

texas tribune symposium on waterOn Tuesday, March 10, the Texas Tribune will host a one-day symposium on water in partnership with Texas State University.

 

 

 

Panel topics will include:

  • Life After Proposition 6
  • The Battle Over Groundwater
  • How Much More Can We Conserve?
  • Why Water Along the Border is Undrinkable

And at lunchtime, Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith will sit down with Brian McCall, chancellor of the Texas State University System, for a special conversation.

Register Now

Tuesday, March 10, 2015
8 a.m. – 2:45 p.m.

See the full program for panel details.

Texas State University
J.C. Kellam Administration Building
Reed Parr Room (11th Floor)
601 University Drive, San Marcos, TX 78666

This event is free and open to the public, but please register at trib.it/WaterSymposiumInvite so they can save you a seat. Hourly paid parking will be available in the Edward Gary Street Garage.

Can’t make it in person? Tune in to the livestream, and join the dialogue on Twitter with #TTEvents.

Have colleagues or friends who are interested in water issues? Please forward this invitation to them! All are welcome.

This event is generously sponsored by Texas State University, Texas A&M University, the Meadows Center for Water and Environment, SouthWest Water Company, the Texas Farm Bureau and the Meadows Foundation. Tribune events are also supported through contributions from their founding investors and members.

Disclosure: Though donors and corporate sponsors underwrite their events, they play no role in determining the content, panelists or line of questioning.

NEJAC Public Teleconference Meeting, March 19

Date: Thursday, March 19, 2015
Time: 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Public comment: From 3:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time

The National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) will host a public teleconference meeting. The primary topics of discussion will be:

  • Chemical Safety Policy
  • Farmworker Protection Standards
  • Definition of Solid Waste Rule
  • Refinery Rule
  • Clean Power Rule
  • Title VI

Registration

Pre-registration is required. You can pre-register at http://nejac-teleconference-march2015.eventbrite.com.

  • Registration closes at Noon, Eastern Time on Monday, March 16, 2015
  • Deadline for public comment period sign-up, is also Noon, Eastern Time on Monday, March 16, 2015

When registering:

  • Please provide your name, organization, city and state, email address, and telephone number for follow up
  • Please also state whether you would like to be put on the list to provide public comment, and whether you are submitting written comments before the Monday, March 16, 2015, noon deadline
  • Non-English speaking attendees wishing to arrange for a foreign language interpreter may also make appropriate arrangements using the email address or telephone/fax number listed below.

Public Comment

  • Members of the public who wish to provide public comment must pre-register by Noon, Eastern Time on Monday, March 16, 2015
  • Individuals or groups making remarks during the public comment period will be limited to seven (7) minutes
  • To accommodate the number of people who wish to address the NEJAC, only one representative of a particular community, organization, or group will be allowed to speak
  • The suggested format for individuals providing public comments is as follows: name of speaker; name of organization/community; city and state; and email address; brief description of the concern, and what you want the NEJAC to advise EPA to do

Written comments can also be submitted for the record:

For Further Information

Questions or correspondence concerning the teleconference meeting should be directed to Jasmin Muriel by email at [email protected] or telephone at 202-564-4287. Information about the NEJAC is available at: http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/nejac.

Climate Skeptic Industry Shill, Wei-Hock 'Willie' Soon

Climate change skeptic, Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon, revealed as an industry shill.

A climate change denying scientist working for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has been accused of taking money from the fossil fuel industry and subsequently publishing research without disclosing his funding sources and potential conflicts of interest. According to documents obtained by Greenpeace through the Freedom of Information Act, Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon received $1.25 million from the Koch brothers, Exxon Mobil, the American Petroleum Institute (API), and Southern Company.

Around the issue of climate change, there is a 97% consensus amongst climate scientists and the research literature that humans are responsible for global warming, mainly through the emission of greenhouse gasses. Soon’s “research” leads him to claim that climate change is caused by the sun [An idea that U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change dismissed in its 2013 report]. Being a climate skeptic, Soon has become very popular in certain political circles. He was praised by Senator James Inhofe, the Republican from Oklahoma who called climate change a hoax. Soon was also called by Republicans in the Kansas state legislature to testify against measures to promote wind and solar power. The Heartland Institute even gave him the “Courage in Defense of Science Award” for his work.

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics released a statement saying that Soon is “a part-time researcher at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory,” and they are “greatly concerned about the allegations surrounding Dr. Willie Soon’s failure to disclose funding sources for his climate change research.” The institute also added: “Scientific evidence has demonstrated that the global climate is warming as a result of increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases generated by human activities.”

Of the 58 “experts” listed by the Heartland Institute as heroic deniers of climate change, The Daily Beast found that only three out of the 58 have credentials in climatology or atmospheric science. One of these three certified scientists, Patrick Michaels, has already admitted that 40 percent of his funding is from the fossil fuel lobby. Over time, we can expect that more climate change skeptics and “truthers” will be exposed as paid mouthpieces for fossil fuels.

Rail Transport of Oil and AccidentsIf the fatal, Lac-Megantic oil train derailment in Quebec in 2013 did not raise concern for Americans, especially those in towns with railroad lines, the derailment in West Virginia certainly has. Carrying about 3.2 million gallons of crude oil, the CSX train that went off the tracks sent fireballs 300 feet into the air and spilled crudes into the river.

Like many trains nowadays, the CSX train was carrying Bakken oil, a particularly flammable type of crude. Yet the high-risk nature of Bakken oil has not stopped its transportation across the United States.

“With crude oil and gas traveling through towns in our state with ever-increasing frequency, safety must be paramount. Accidents involving toxic chemicals can have serious health and safety implications,” U.S. Sen. Cory Booker told NJ news. Booker is a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. “We were fortunate that there were no fatalities in either of these accidents, but next time we might not be so lucky.”

Public concern also stems from the growing number collisions. In 2013 alone, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, reported 166 oil train accidents. In response to the rise of oil train accidents, manufacturers have increased the production of crude oil to mitigate the oil loss. The National Transportation Safety Board stated that the transportation of crude oil by rail has increased by 400% within the past decade.

The combination of the increase in oil train accidents and crude oil production results in an overall escalation of pollution, water contamination, and safety hazards. Crude oil trains are especially dangerous because shipments come in 100 or more cars, increasing the possibility of accidents. The CSX train in Virginia itself had 109 cars, and the company is still unsure about the extent of the oil spill and the number of cars derailed.

Due to recent events, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has received pressure to expedite new safety rules. In response, the DOT proposes new initiatives for a new standard for cars, safer protocols, and new operational standards.

A projection from a previously unreported analysis by the Department of Transportation (USDOT) that reviewed the risks of moving vast quantities of both fuels across the nation and through major cities predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S.  Specifically the USDOT analysis projects:

  • Based on past accident trends, anticipated shipping volumes and known ethanol and crude rail routes, the analysis predicted about 15 derailments in 2015, declining to about five a year by 2034.
  • The 207 total derailments over the two-decade period would cause $4.5 billion in damage, according to the analysis, which predicts 10 “higher consequence events” causing more extensive damage and potential fatalities.
  • If just one of those more severe accidents occurred in a high-population area, it could kill more than 200 people and cause roughly $6 billion in damage.

The derailments have evidently stood as a warning sign for the United States to enhance the safety of transporting hazardous crude oil by rail. However, the newly proposed regulations may take months to be implemented, so it is important for the public to not lose its momentum for the campaign for safer crude oil shipment transportation.