Following Casey Push, DOT Keeps in Place Emergency Rule that Strengthens Oil Train Disclosure

Keeping Emergency Rule In Place Improves Right to Know Standards for First Responders / In Early May, Casey Joined Eight Senators in Letter to DOT that Called for Emergency Rule to Remain

Following Casey Push, DOT Keeps in Place Emergency Rule that Strengthens Oil Train Disclosure

Washington DC- Following efforts by U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) the Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced that it will allow an emergency rule that strengthens oil train disclosures to remain in place as concerns continue about derailments. The move will improve right to know standards for first responders who would be asked to respond to a derailment. In early May, Casey joined eight Senators in a letter to DOT asking them to keep the rule in place.

“I’m pleased that the Department of Transportation has taken this commonsense step to keep these emergency rules in place,” Senator Casey said. “First responders who risk their lives when trains derail deserve to know what chemicals they could be dealing with when they get to the scene.”

The Senators’ original letter expressed concern that the recent High-Hazard Flammable Train Rule may limit the availability of emergency response information by superseding DOT’s May 2014 Emergency Order ensuring that such information be provided to the State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) on a routine basis related to any train carrying 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil. DOT has now announced that the emergency disclosure rules will remain in place.

The original letter can be seen here:

Dear Secretary Foxx,

We are writing today to voice significant concern over community right-to-know and disclosure requirements for crude-by-rail shipments included in the May 1, 2015 Final Rule on "Enhanced Tank Car Standards and Operational Controls for High-Hazard Flammable Trains" (Final Rule).

We call upon you to issue an Emergency Order that improves the process for providing detailed information on crude-by-rail movements and volumes to first responders, shifts the onus for information sharing onto the railroads and not communities, and allows for the continued public availability of broader crude-by-rail data on movements and routes.

First, we ask U.S. DOT to specifically include State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) in permanent crude-by-rail disclosure requirements, as they are now under the temporary May 7, 2014 Emergency Order issued by the department. Under the Final Rule, detailed, up-to-date crude-by-rail information is only made available to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Fusion Centers and state, local, and tribal officials in jurisdictions affected by the rail carrier’s routing decisions. SERCs play a critical role in developing and supporting state and local first responders’ emergency planning, preparation, and mitigation capabilities, especially with regards to events involving hazardous materials. Any robust disclosure requirement must ensure that SERCs are also receiving and can disseminate timely information on crude-by-rail movements.

Second, we strongly believe that detailed crude-by-rail information should be provided outright and proactively to first responders – and not require individual jurisdictions in our states to reach out ad hoc to learn about the safety risks in their communities. The onus for obtaining detailed crude-by-rail information should not be on the local jurisdiction.

Third, we call upon U.S. DOT to clarify that broader crude-by-rail information will remain accessible to the public. While we understand the need for detailed Security Sensitive Information to remain need-to-know, we agree with the FRA that public disclosure of broader crude-by-rail information, such as volumes and movements, is in no way detrimental to transportation safety, and that broader information does not fall under any category of Security Sensitive Information as defined by U.S. DOT and the Transportation Security Administration.

Finally, we urge you to address the concerns of first responders immediately after a crude-by-rail accident by making sure they have timely access to the information necessary to properly respond. In many cases, this can be accomplished by requiring immediate, proactive notification to both SERCs and County Emergency Management Offices with detailed train information. These steps will help ensure the strongest possible emergency response.

The unsafe movement of crude-by-rail is a threat to communities across this country. Therefore, to improve information for first responders and protect the general public, we call upon you to issue an Emergency Order that ensures that SERCs, and by extension first responders, have clear access to detailed, up-to-date information about crude-by-rail shipments and that the public continues to have general information about crude-by-rail volumes and routes that does not compromise security. 

The Final Rule constitutes a setback on disclosure requirements that could hamper our first responders and negatively impact the safety of our communities. We urge you to promptly address these shortfalls, and look forward to your response.

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