Call for Enactment of Legislation to Improve Transparency, Accountability of Rail Companies
TRENTON – Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Senator Bob Gordon and Assemblyman Tim Eustace and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle today called for improved transparency, accountability and safety related to trains carrying crude oil through Teaneck and other densely populated communities across northern New Jersey. The legislators were joined by a number of groups, including New Jersey Work Environment Council, Environment New Jersey, and New Jersey Sierra Club, in calling for passage and enactment of legislation that will be considered by the Senate on Thursday.
“Freight trains are transporting millions of gallons of dangerous oil through communities each week, putting the safety of our residents at risk,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “We’ve seen derailments and other disasters occur across the country, yet rail companies still refuse to disclose information about their operations and safety plans. Given the safety risk these trains pose to our residents, we have to take action to protect those who live, work and go to school in close proximity to the rail lines. These requirements will improve accountability of the companies and require proactive planning to better ensure that if an emergency occurs, the rail company and our emergency officials are prepared to respond.”
“As we have seen in Quebec, train accidents and derailments can have very dire consequences. These trains are moving very close to our homes, schools, businesses and parks, so it is imperative that we improve safety,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Part of that effort is to increase transparency and accountability of the operators, but also to ensure protocols are in place that will allow emergency officials to respond quickly and effectively in the event of an emergency. This measure will help to ensure that happens.”
“Dozens of trains carrying millions of gallons of oil travel through Bergen County every week. It is unfair that the residents who would be impacted the most if something were to go wrong are being deprived of information that could help. This is not just about transparency, but ensuring that residents are well-prepared and can contribute to a coordinated response in the case of an emergency,” said Assemblyman Eustace. “An educated public can make for a smoother response to an emergency situation, and help provide a safer outcome.”
“We have seen too many oil train derailments, spills, fires, and explosions take place. We are very concerned about the danger involved with oil trains that are traveling within our communities and through this bill we are taking meaningful steps to bring transparency and accountability to the process. The requirements laid out in the legislation are crucial to ensuring public safety,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).
The increased production of crude oil from the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota has led to an increase in the volume of crude oil being transported by rail in North America and throughout the State of New Jersey. An estimated 30 million gallons of crude oil per week are transported by rail from North Dakota to refineries and storage facilities in New Jersey and neighboring states, traveling through some of New Jersey’s most densely populated areas. Published reports in The Record indicate that 15 to 30 trains go through Bergen County each week on the CSX River Line from New York to Philadelphia carrying the oil shipments.
Sponsored by Weinberg, Gordon, Eustace, and Huttle, the legislation (S806) would require the owner or operator of a “high hazard train” traveling on any railroad track within the state to submit to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) a discharge response, cleanup, and contingency plan and to renew it at least every five years.
A copy of the plan, or plan renewal, and all plan amendments would have to be filed by the owner or operator of a high hazard train with the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management. NJ OEM would have to provide each county office of emergency management and emergency services provider having jurisdiction along the travel route of a high hazard train with any information it receives from an owner or operator of a high hazard train as a result of federal Department of Transportation emergency order, rule, or regulation or with any plan, plan renewal, or plan amendments received from an owner or operator of a high hazard train.
Companies would also be required to offer training to emergency services personnel with jurisdiction along the travel route, and to deploy sufficient equipment and trained personnel within a certain timeframe in the event of a discharge. They would have to make information available to the public on their website, so long as it does not conflict with federal law, concerning: the routes and volumes of cargoes updated on a monthly basis; an analysis of the consequences of maximum discharges from the high hazard trains owned or operated in the State; a copy of the most current plan; and a railroad routing analysis and any accompanying documentation that impacted the owner or operator’s decision in routing the high hazard train through the State.
Advocates gathered with the legislators near the Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Teaneck, which is near a railroad track that transports hazardous substances, to illustrate the dangers the community and school children face. They said that communities have a right to know about hazardous materials being transported by rail, particularly when school children are being taught within the blast zone.
“The costs of a potential disaster are astronomically high and the rail car companies are not currently required to prove they have insurance coverage for worst case disasters, costs which we know will be higher in New Jersey. This bill would be a step in the right direction for information transparency and safety preparedness, but the legislature needs to ensure that the public has access to information and that our first responders receive the training they need,” said Dan Fatton, executive director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council.
“Our communities are on the front line of dealing with trains carrying hazardous and explosive materials and they have a right to know how often these trains are coming through their neighborhoods and how much they are carrying,” said Debbie Mans, Executive Director, NY/NJ Baykeeper. “It is critical that an emergency response plan is submitted for review and that the companies prove they have the financial ability to pay for any cleanups or damage from any spill or explosion.”
“The safety of citizens and first responders must be paramount when any type of hazardous or dangerous material is transported,” said Dominick Marino, president of Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey and WEC board member. “Knowing the correct information is the only way first responders can properly plan for an emergency.”
“For too long, we have been in the dark on exactly what is in the black freight trains that rumble through our communities,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey and WEC board member. “This bill will finally shed light on what’s in these trains — and ensure there are emergency and clean-up plans in place if and when one of these trains derails.”
“As a worker, members of my union and I often face dangers on the job. We remain concerned about not having access to information about substances that might harm us,” said John Pajak, president, International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Local 877 and WEC board member.
“The Ironbound community lives every day with these potentially dangerous trains moving and parking around our neighborhood right next to homes and schools. The threat of one of these tankers exploding or leaking is inevitable. Our community demands the Right to Know what hazardous threats are possibly surrounding them, and action must be taken immediately to ensure that our community and all those impacted by these oil trains are protected from harm,” said Molly Greenberg, environmental justice policy manager, Ironbound Community Corporation.
“With 50 trains coming through our communities a week, we are playing Russian Roulette with our safety. It’s not if a disaster occurs; it is a matter of when. This is an important bill that will allow public access to the Emergency Response Plans,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club and WEC board member.