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Archive for the ‘Safety’ Category

UPDATE: Happening now in Houston, until 8pm CT.  Go on Facebook to TEJAS’s page to watch.

https://www.facebook.com/TejasBarrios/videos/

Date:           Thursday, 11/17/2016
Location:  Hartman Community Center, 9311 East Ave. P. Houston, TX 77012
Time:          2:00 pm – 8:00 pm.

Join HPCC public health advocates at an EPA hearing about toxic air pollution from petroleum refineries!

(En español, mira aquí: http://airalliancehouston.org/wp-content/uploads/Spanish-EPA-Hearing-Flier.pdf)

The Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public hearing on the reconsideration of the Refinery Sector Rule for which EPA did not provide adequate opportunity for notice and comment. This rulemaking is the result of a lawsuit filed by Air Alliance Houston, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Community In-Power and Development Association, and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, who are collectively represented by Earthjustice.

This is is our only chance to tell EPA we are concerned about pollution from oil refineries and its impact on our health. This is the only public hearing EPA will hold anywhere in the country, and public comment will be taken for six hours, from 2-8 pm. We’d like EPA to hear from us and our allies in refinery communities throughout the entire hearing, so please sign up to speak today.

Join us in telling EPA:

  • Our health suffers from pollution from oil refineries.
  • Our children are particularly at risk from the health effects of air pollution.
  • Air pollution affects our lives where we live, work, and play.

Together we can demand a stronger rule to protect communities from air pollution. The refining industry must cut pollution by:

  • Reducing emissions from flares and pressure relief devices.
  • Eliminate pollution exemptions for malfunction and force majeure events.
  • Require fenceline monitoring at all times.

Air Alliance Houston will have fact sheets and talking points available at the hearing.
If you would like to present oral testimony at the hearing, please complete this form or notify Ms. Virginia Hunt no later than November 15, 2016, by email: [email protected] (preferred); or by telephone: (919) 541-0832.
Space will also be available that day if time slots are not all filled, on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Basic background on key issues from EPA:
https://www.epa.gov/stationary-sources-air-pollution/petroleum-refinery-sector-reconsideration-october-2016
Sign the Earthjustice petition: http://earthjustice.org/news/press/2016/community-and-environmental-groups-sue-the-epa-and-call-on-the-agency-to-remove-free-pass-to-pollute-from

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IMG_1653Around 10:10 AM on Sunday July 17th, a pipeline leaked propylene in the community of Baytown, TX, near the ExxonMobil Baytown refinery. Propylene is a dense, colorless gas that is considered non-toxic but flammable. The pipeline leak highlights some of the challenges associated with emergency response along within the Houston region.

At 10:30 AM, according to the Houston Chronicle, three houses were evacuated and all others within the vicinity of the leak were told to shelter in place. The emergency response was mixed. Residents who signed up for city notifications through Baytown Alert were apparently notified by phone and by email around 10:30 AM about the order to shelter-in-place. Yet some confusion remained – who exactly did the shelter-in-place include? What had happened, and what kind of chemical was released – something flammable or something toxic? Should residents downwind be concerned?

The CAER line, which is supported by the East Harris County Manufacturers Association, provides a hotline for Harris County residents to call to obtain more information regarding emergency situations. During the incident on Sunday, several people known to us called CAER to hear the messages it posted regarding the situation. It is unclear how quickly the first message regarding the incident was posted to CAER; a Baytown resident stated that it took about an hour following the incident before CAER posted a message. On Sunday at 1:05 PM, there were no current messages, even though the shelter-in-place had not yet been lifted. At 2:30 PM, CAER’s message stated that a propylene leaked resulted in the shelter-in-place warning. The City of Baytown reported via twitter that the shelter-in-place had been lifted at 2:38 PM. At 3:30 PM, CAER’s message line mentioned the leak without any mention of a shelter-in-place. Around 4:20 PM there were no current messages on the CAER line.

Although the City of Baytown notified residents of the shelter-in-place, the residents we spoke with never received the all clear and were not informed when the shelter-in-place had been lifted either via siren or via email and phone. In fact, it is unclear if sirens were used to communicate the shelter-in-place, which is an important way to inform people who may be visiting the area or who may not have access to other technology. Many questions remain unanswered and the Healthy Ports Community Coalition (HPCC) is actively researching to fully understand the emergency response.

The HPCC is also proposing a system like an amber alert system to make use of our modern technology so that residents can be informed immediately when emergency evacuations or a shelter-in-place is called for, notified when it is all clear to return to normal, and they can be instructed specifically on what steps to take to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy. In this case, Baytown residents were lucky that the chemical leaked was not deemed toxic and that no one suffered any known health impacts from the leak. HPCC is working to keep residents safe and informed for when the next incident happens.

hpcc

 

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition is growing a strong base of well-informed and active local residents who engage public and private stakeholders directly on priority issues including jobs, pollution, health, neighborhood safety, and economic opportunities.

 

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Columbia Gorge Oil Train DerailmentFollowing last week’s derailment in the Colombia River Gorge of a 96-car train carrying crude oil from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota, former National Transportation Safety Board chair, Jim Hall, said, “carrying crude oil by rail is just not a good idea.”  Read his piece in the Oregonian here.

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collapsed scaffolding cnn

Collapsed construction scaffolding – CNN

May 1st is Workers’ Memorial Day, and we have much to remember here in Texas.  A new Report Finds Construction Injuries and Fatalities Cost Texas Nearly $900 Million Annually

Injuries and fatalities in the construction industry cost Texas an estimated $895.9 million in 2013 alone with workers and their families footing an estimated $447.9 million of the bill, a new Public Citizen and Workers Defense Project report (PDF) shows.

The report, “The Price of Inaction: The Cost of Construction Injuries in the Lone Star State,” quantifies the estimated costs of deaths, injuries and illnesses in the state’s construction industry. The release coincides with Workers’ Memorial Day, a time when labor advocates pause to commemorate those who lost their lives on the job and who suffer from debilitating work-related injuries or illnesses.

In 2013, Texas recorded approximately 5,600 construction industry injuries and illnesses, which required workers to take time off of work to recover. Additionally, 116 Texas construction workers lost their lives during that time.

The report also finds that people of color and immigrants experience disproportionate rates of work-related fatalities in Texas’ construction industry. In 2013, about two out of every three construction workers killed in Texas were Latino. In addition, from 2012 to 2013, fatalities among foreign-born construction workers in the state increased at a much higher rate (47 percent) than the total number of construction worker fatalities during that time (11 percent).

“Our research indicates a pervasive crisis in the Texas construction industry, which unduly burdens people of color, immigrant workers and their families,” said Emily Gardner, worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Texas lawmakers should immediately enact safeguards protecting construction workers from unsafe worksites.”

“Texas’ construction industry is generating more than $74 billion a year,” said José P. Garza, executive director of Workers Defense Project. “There’s no excuse for the industry to shift the cost of dangerous worksites from employers to injured workers, their families and taxpayers.”

Texas’ misleadingly named “opt out” system, which does not require employers to purchase workers compensation insurance, shifts the costs of injuries and fatalities from employers onto workers. Without a basic social safety net that includes workers’ compensation, construction workers and their families are left without wages while they recover from injuries and struggle to pay high medical bills and other expenses.

To address this problem, Workers Defense Project and Public Citizen recommend Texas lawmakers make several reforms to increase safety for employees. The report calls on the Texas Legislature to:

  • Require that all construction employers purchase workers’ compensation coverage for all employees;
  • Require that all contractors on publicly funded or publicly subsidized construction sites complete a workplace health and safety prequalification process;
  • Establish a Texas Council on Construction Safety and Health;
  • Pass a statewide policy establishing a rest break standard for construction workers; and
  • Require or incentivize participation in respected third party certification programs like the Better Builder Program.

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As we’re all aware, weather is never static. Weather conditions and patterns are always changing and are difficult to predict. One very recent example of this is the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). ENSO is a cycle of warming and cooling events in the equatorial Pacific Ocean and the atmosphere above it. These periodic events take place over roughly 2-7 year intervals. The resulting variability in oceanic and atmospheric temperatures has a range of effects on seasonal precipitation and temperature patterns across the world.

With ENSO, the cycle can shift form its neutral or normal state, to a warm phase – El Niño, or a cool phase – La Niña. We’ve been in one of the strongest El Niño phases on record for the last 2 years. During El Niño, the typical East-to-West winds weaken in the equatorial Pacific, which drives warm waters from the western Pacific to the eastern Pacific. This causes warm ocean surface temperatures and heavy precipitation in northern South America, and dry conditions in Australia and Indonesia.

El Nino

With the El Niño phase we’re currently in, there have been a lot of extreme weather phenomena. The monsoon rains weakened in India, resulting in food shortages, West Africa has been in a drought, Australia experienced record heat, Brazil experienced excessive rains, and the northern hemisphere winters were warmer than usual. For Texas specifically, there’s been increased precipitation events, making 2015 Texas’ wettest year on record.

Winter Comparison - NOAA Climate.govThis month though, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have issued an official “La Niña Watch.” They predict that El Niño will phase out in late spring or early summer, and will shift to La Niña for the fall and winter. So we can soon expect to see generally opposite conditions than we have been experiencing with El Niño.

La Niña results when cool ocean water intensifies the East-to-West winds across the equatorial Pacific Ocean. This causes warm oceanic temperatures in the western Pacific, which means heavy rainfall for Australia and Indonesia. Conversely, it causes cool oceanic temperatures in the eastern Pacific, resulting in dry conditions in South America.

Nina Winter - Weather NetworkDuring La Niña winters, the U.S. experiences dry and warm conditions in the southern states, but wet and cool conditions in the Pacific Northwest and northern plains. We can expect there to be a lot of snow in the Pacific Northwest while there’s drought in California and Texas. In previous La Niña periods, the lack of rainfall negatively impacted Texas water supplies and crops. With La Niña, there’s also an increased chance of Atlantic hurricanes since the temperature and moisture flow associated with it creates ideal conditions for hurricane formation.

Even worse, research indicates that because of global climate change, El Niño and La Niña may hit twice as often as they did before. Climate models indicate that an extreme La Niña may hit every 13 years now instead of every 23 years, and an extreme El Niño may hit every 10 years now instead of every 20 years. Since a warmer atmosphere can hold more water and moisture, rainstorms can increase in intensity. For example, during a future El Niño, the West Coast may experience heavier downpours than usual. During a future La Niña, the added moisture in the air may make northeast snowstorms much stronger.

If the weather is always undergoing different cycles and is constantly changing, then why does an upcoming La Niña matter? Shifts in precipitation and temperature patterns alter crop production abilities, which will impact the prices of goods all over the world. Various commodities will be affected by the upcoming La Niña:
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The Uber/Lyft debate has been raging in Austin for months, but do you know what you’ll actually be voting on?  Voting is a right, but being an informed voter is a responsibility.

Proposition 1 is a vote on rules and regulations in Austin for transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft. If you vote AGAINST Prop. 1, you’re voting for the City of Austin’s proposed safety rules. If you vote FOR Prop. 1, you’re voting for Uber and Lyft’s proposed regulations that they personally drafted in retaliation to the Austin City Council’s ordinance. While a lot of the rules in the two ordinances are the same, there are some very important differences as well. To make it easier for voters to understand, we’ve highlighted the differences in the ordinances, and therefore what Austin residents are really voting on at the polls on May 7.

Key:

  • AGAINST PROP 1 – City of Austin’s regulations
  • FOR PROP 1 – Uber and Lyft’s regulations
  • TNC (Transportation Network Company) – an organization, whether a corporation, partnership, sole proprietor, or other form, which provides on-demand transportation services for compensation using an online-enabled application or platform to connect passengers with drivers.
  • ATD (Austin Transportation Department) – section of the Austin government that addresses transportation needs and challenges, as well as public safety.

Austin Proposition 1 Comparison Table

The regulations the City Council passed in December requiring stricter rules than currently in place for Uber and Lyft are not absurd. People who operate pedicabs or horse carriages in the city already have to get fingerprinted. Make no mistake; this is not an issue of keeping Uber and Lyft in Austin. That’s not what the vote is for on May 7. The City Council isn’t kicking anyone out; they’re just leveling the playing field for all TNCs by making sure they follow the same rules.  And if these particular companies choose not to do business here, Austin Uber and Lyft drivers will soon be provided with new transportation companies to drive for.

Uber and Lyft have already pumped $2.2 million into this campaign, which is evident in their abundant advertising. This is supposed to be a local issue, but it’s quickly becoming a perfect example of why Citizens United should be repealed. Vote “No” for Prop. 1 and show corporations that they can’t write their own rules and buy local politics in Austin.

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If you’ve used a taxi or similar transportation service in a major U.S. city recently, you’ve probably heard of Uber or Lyft. Uber and Lyft are two mobile ride hailing companies that were both founded in San Francisco, California. Uber was founded in March 2009 and Lyft was founded in summer 2012. They facilitate peer-to-peer ridesharing and operate under the transportation network company (TNC) label. By summer 2015, Uber’s net worth was valued at $50 billion and Lyft’s net value was $2.5 billion.

Council Member Ann Kitchen Getting Fingerprinted - Photo by Jay Janner, Austin American Statesman

Council Member Ann Kitchen Getting Fingerprinted – Photo by Jay Janner, Austin American Statesman

Uber and Lyft are great options for carpooling, for not having to deal with parking your car downtown, or for worrying about drinking and driving. They also provide convenience by simply using your smartphone to order and pay for a ride. So what’s all the fuss with them about? This past December, the Austin City Council passed an ordinance that, among other things, required all transportation network companies (TNCs), which includes Lyft and Uber, to fingerprint their drivers for background checks. The December ordinance set benchmark goals of having 25% of drivers fingerprinted by May 2016, with gradual increases, and then 99% compliance by February 2017.

South Congress Capitol View – Photo from Wikimedia

South Congress Capitol View – Photo from Wikimedia

Public safety officials support of the fingerprinting ordinance as necessary for safety. Without fingerprinting, drivers could slip through the background check using false identities.  Lyft and Uber are opposed to fingerprinting their “contractors” because they think their background checks are sufficient and that the ordinance opens the door to future regulation that they believe hampers innovation. Taxi drivers, pedicab operators and horse carriage operators are already subject to the same regulations though.

City Council Committee Meeting – Photo by Laura Skelding, Austin American Statesman

City Council Committee Meeting – Photo by Laura Skelding, Austin American Statesman

Lyft and Uber say that if fingerprinting happens, they’re leaving town. They don’t want to be subjected to regulations they think might stifle future business decisions or that defines them as taxi-like companies. If they’re associated with taxi services, they’ll be subjected to an array of additional rules. This is ironic because Uber and Lyft are in fact very similar to taxis: they provide transportation for passengers and receive payment in exchange. They are “taxi-like” and thus should be subjected to the additional regulations they want to avoid.

What about who the actual drivers are? According to Ben Wear (Austin American Statesman February 15, 2016, pg. B3):

At least ten Austin women filed complaints last year about sexual assaults – seven against ride-hailing drivers, three involving taxis. While the two companies use background checks that look at all 50 states, and they bar applicants with crimes of violence or theft, those background checks only look back seven years. So, someone could have committed a rape or even a homicide 10 or 20 years ago, even in Texas, and the ride-hailing companies likely would not find out about it.

In an undercover investigation, NBC Chicago hired several drivers and ran their own personal background checks on them. They found numerous tickets and questionable driving history. One driver had 26 tickets and one driver was an ex-con who had priors going back two decades including burglary, drugs, and assault. There are clearly people getting through their background check system that shouldn’t be driving for hire. Having the fingerprint submissions that the City Council proposed would make it easier for law enforcement to identify lawbreakers.

A political action committee (PAC) called Ridesharing Works for Austin formed in response to the fingerprinting mandate. The PAC made a petition to fight back against the City Council’s new TNC rules, and they gathered three times more signatures than they needed. The City Council could then either overturn the fingerprinting ordinance passed in December, or place it on the ballot of the next available election for the voters to decide. They went with the latter, so it’s up to Austin voters to decide on May 7.

The Uber and Lyft situation in Austin is a local example of a problem America is experiencing at a federal level – big money in government. The reason Uber and Lyft were able to gather so much support for their petition is because they contributed at least $50,000 in cash and services to the Ridesharing Works PAC. The PAC had canvassers go out, knock on Austin residents’ doors, and gather signatures. Many rideshare drivers also had the petition available in their vehicles for passengers to sign during their rides. Many inaccurately explained the issue to Austin residents as simply “Uber/Lyft vs. the city of Austin”. They told residents that the City Council is forcing Uber and Lyft to leave town, when in reality, if the two companies do leave, it’ll be on their own accord.

The money behind the petition against the fingerprinting ordinance is from big corporations. And those corporations are essentially funding Lyft and Uber’s campaign against safety regulations in Austin. This is exactly what we want to avoid in politics, and it’s happening right here in our city. Corporations coming up with their own rules and going to city hall to demand them is not the way government is supposed to work. It’s a government by the people and for the people, not by corporations and for corporations. If Uber and Lyft succeed in getting the fingerprint mandate overturned, it sets a dangerous precedent for the future. As citizens of the United States of America, we need to question how money from big corporations like Uber and Lyft is influencing our local legislation. Austin voters should consider this when they head to the polls on May 7th.

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Firefighters training for oil train disaster at A&M facility

Firefighters training for oil train disaster at A&M facility

Rural Texas communities are having to consider preparing for a first responder nightmare scenario, a train derailment involving the ever increasing number of trains carrying crude oil (or bombs on rails).  As the amount of  crude oil being shipped by rail increases, it is only a matter of time before Texas experiences an accident involving exploding rail cars.  This could take place in a rural area on the way to Houston, or right in the midst of the city of Houston.

Read about the firefighter training facility located on the outskirts of the Texas A & M campus.  Known as “Disaster City”,  firefighters from around Texas and other states are learning techniques for fighting fires and rescuing people when this scenario happens.  See Forest Ethics interactive map at http://explosive-crude-by-rail.org/

Where oil trains travel into Houston.  See Forest Ethics interactive map http://explosive-crude-by-rail.org/

Where oil trains travel into Houston. From Forest Ethics

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Statement of Tyson Slocum, Energy Program Director, Public Citizen

The recent spate of oil train disasters requires a rewrite of safety rules. While the rules unveiled today represent a step forward in some respects, the rules also do not go nearly far enough in two crucial areas. First, the rules allow the very same dangerous oil train cars that have been involved in the recent derailments and explosions to remain on the rails until 2020 in some cases. Second, the rules do nothing to lower the volatility of the crude oil being transported. That means the rule does little to minimize the magnitude of any explosion that occurs after an oil train derails and explodes. Requiring rail cars to become more puncture-resistant and have more effective braking systems is a necessary first step. But the directive does not fully safeguard communities from the threat of oil train infernos.

Legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) – the Crude-by-Rail Safety Act (S. 859) – represents the apex of what a regulatory response to the threat of oil train disasters should be. It should set aggressive but fair standards for new and existing cars and immediately ban the use of any car without increased puncture resistance, stronger flame retardants and enhanced braking systems. Cantwell’s legislation goes above and beyond today’s proposed rule by setting a federal oil volatility standard and by requiring that community officials be notified before oil trains travel through their neighborhoods.

America’s crude-by-rail crisis stems from the rapid expansion of oil production in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale, which lacks adequate pipeline capacity to move the 1.2 million barrels of oil produced there every day. As a result, 70 percent of the oil is shipped on railroads that are not designed to accommodate these treacherous loads. Bakken crude is extremely volatile, making it more prone to combustion upon a puncture-inducing derailment.

A small step like today’s DOT rule does not do enough to address the real oil train safety crisis.

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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.

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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.

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Coalition for Sensible SafeguardsThe Coalition for Sensible Safeguards strongly opposes the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA), which the House passed on Tuesday. They are urging members of Congress to oppose it and The White House  has issued a veto threat for the Bill . This innocuous-sounding bill is designed to undermine our nation’s environmental, public health, workplace safety and consumer financial security protections – not improve them.

The RAA would rewrite dozens of laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Consumer Product Safety Act and the Food Safety Modernization Act by requiring federal agencies to put corporate profits ahead of the health and safety of American workers and families. Agencies would have to produce highly speculative estimates of all the indirect costs and benefits of proposed rules and do the same for any potential alternatives. What counts and does not count as an indirect cost or a potential alternative? The bill leaves that up to the imagination of industry.

In addition, the RAA would hamstring the work of agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bill would subject their work to review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which is infamous for delaying, diluting and blocking important new safeguards. Federal agencies already take years to issue health and safety standards. The dozens of cumbersome requirements added by this bill would make that process even longer.

Any high-stakes rule that miraculously made it through these roadblocks would face unprecedented challenges. The RAA would allow industry lobbyists to second-guess the work of respected scientists through legal challenges, sparking a wave of litigation that would add even more costs and delays to the rulemaking process – while putting the lives, health and safety of millions of Americans at risk.

The costs of blocking crucial standards and safeguards are clear: The Wall Street economic collapse, the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in West Virginia, the West Fertilizer Company explosion in West, TX, countless food and product safety recalls and massive environmental disasters including the Dan River coal ash spill in North Carolina and the Freedom Industries chemical spill in West Virginia are just some of the most recent examples.

It’s no wonder polling shows that Americans want better enforcement of our nation’s rules and standards. Congress should listen to the public and stop trying to sabotage the safeguards that protect us all.

To learn more about the potential effects of the bill, see the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards’ 2011 report: Impacts of the Regulatory Accountability Act. The latest version of the bill has been partially revised, but the problems at the heart of the bill remain.

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Blog Post PicTwo non-profit and non-partisan investigative journalism organizations, the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News, have concluded through their joint investigation that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Railroad Commission protect the oil and gas industry instead of the public whom they claim to serve.

Fred Wright and Morris Kocurek were two oil and gas regulators working for the Texas Railroad Commission who received praise from their supervisors, promotions, and merit raises throughout their careers. But they may have done their jobs too well. They were fired in 2013 for what they believe to be their insistence in making sure oil and gas operators followed the rules and regulations in place to protect the public and the environment.

Wright was responsible for determining whether oil and gas wells were up to code to prevent groundwater contamination. He was often encouraged or coerced by his superiors to bend the rules, to say that operators had met compliance standards when they had not. In 2013, his superiors told him that complaints had been filed against him by the operators claiming he was “unreasonable to work with” and “does not attempt to offer solutions to bring them in compliance with commission rules”, citing that Fred’s methods for compliance would be “costly”. Wright’s boss at the time, Charlie Teague, insisted that Write approve oil and gas wells despite the fact that they were in violation of statewide rules.

As the enforcer of proper toxic waste disposal in the oil and gas industry, Kocurek faced very similar problems. He said his bosses made it clear that he was supposed to go easy on the industry. The violation notices Kocurek filed were usually processed very slowly and follow-up inspections were assigned to the more lenient inspectors. Eventually, Kocurek realized the influence that the industry had on its supposed regulators and his reports were all ignored. Violations would disappear after the right phone calls were made.

Documents obtained from the Railroad Commission through the open-records corroborate the stories of Mr. Wright and Mr. Kocurek. Wright has filed a civil lawsuit alleging wrongful termination. He has also filed a federal whistleblower complaint. Kocurek, on the other hand, hasn’t taken any legal action and would rather forget the whole thing.

According to InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity, the Railroad Commission is controlled by three elected commissioners who have accepted nearly $3 million combined in campaign contributions from the industry during the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. In the case of the Railroad Commission and the TCEQ, money talks and it’s louder than the voice of Texas citizens.

Read their extensive report here: [http://books.insideclimatenews.org/fired]

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Amid big losses for the more progressive candidates on the Texas statewide ballot, Denton residents voted to ban fracking within city limits.  This is the first fracking ban in Texas.  The ballot language was:

SHALL AN ORDINANCE BE ENACTED PROHIBITING, WITHIN THE CORPORATE LIMITS OF THE CITY OF DENTON, TEXAS, HYDRAULIC FRACTURING, A WELL STIMULATION PROCESS INVOLVING THE USE OF WATER, SAND AND/OR CHEMICAL ADDITIVES PUMPED UNDER HIGH PRESSURE TO FRACTURE SUBSURFACE NON-POROUS ROCK FORMATIONS SUCH AS SHALE TO IMPROVE THE FLOW OF NATURAL GAS, OIL, OR OTHER HYDROCARBONS INTO THE WELL, WITH SUBSEQUENT HIGH RATE, EXTENDED FLOWBACK TO EXPEL FRACTURE FLUIDS AND SOLIDS?

Frack Free DentonClearly, the people of Denton were convinced that this is the best way to protect their health, safety and quality of life.  The science strongly supports this view.  The environmental and health impacts of fracking are numerous, severe and some are long lasting.  Releases of toxic pollutants into the air are making people sick in the short term and causing long-term health impactsWater pollution from fracking operations poses health risks and hardship on people whose water supply is destroyed.  Billions of gallons of water are removed from the hydrological cycle when Texas is already struggling to meet its water needs.  Ejection wells in some areas are causing earthquakes.  On top of all that, methane leakage from fracking, natural gas processing, and transportation of natural gas is contributing to climate change.

There will be legal challenges to the Denton fracking ban, and possibly legislative action to try to roll it back.  That’s where the rest of us who care about protecting human health and the environment come in.  We can’t leave Denton residents to fight alone.  This is not a problem that is unique to them, and it’s one that we all contribute to by using natural gas.  Our individual and community decisions are impacting real people in serious ways.  Natural gas is not a clean or harmless energy choice.  Its use should be minimized as much as possible.  That includes moving away from natural gas-fired power plants, not building more of them.

Even if Denton’s fracking ban stands up to legal challenges and avoids legislative destruction, many communities in Texas will continue to suffer the impacts of fracking.  Denton has the benefit of being an urban area with a significant student population.  The Eagle Ford area, on the other hand, is largely rural and less affluent and residents find themselves powerless against the rampant fracking around them.  The community advocates who worked to pass the fracking ban in Denton deserve an incredible amount of credit for their work, as do Denton residents for making the smart decision to protect themselves.  Now we must not forget about those left on the front lines of fracking who are less able to organize to protect their health, their land, our shared water resources, and the climate.  We need a Sharon Wilson for every fracked community.

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A new investigation shows a strong correlation between the fracking boom and a significant increase in fatal crashes in Texas.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is known for the environmental dangers it poses: obscene water use, groundwater contamination and the release of greenhouse gasses. An equally dark side to the practice has recently been revealing itself.

Texas Increase in Vehicle Accidents and Fatalities as Fracking IncreasedWorking together, The Houston Chronicle and Houston Public Media conducted an investigation that found fatalities involving commercial vehicles on Texas roads have increased dramatically since the fracking boom of 2008. In 2009 there were a reported 352 highway fatalities involving commercial vehicles. That number jumped to 532 in 2014; a 51 percent increase.

For decades, Texas’ incidents of auto fatalities were in decline. Improved safety standards, such as seat belts, child seats and airbags made being on the road less deadly. However, Texas saw an 8 percent increase between 2009 and 2013, the same time the fracking boom started.
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