Fourteen AGs Ask PHMSA to Put the Brakes on Ethane by Rail Special Permit
Environmental justice communities and safety standards should not be disregarded
February 22, 2023
New York, NY — A coalition of 14 state AGs led by Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown and New York Attorney General Letitia James sent comments yesterday to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in opposition to a request for a special permit by Gas Innovations LNG Refrigerants Inc. The special permit would allow Gas Innovations to transport liquefied ethane at very low temperatures between a site in Marcus Hook, PA and unknown sites in Canada, Mexico, and parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast. The AGs urged PHMSA to deny Gas Innovation’s vague request, asserting that the proposed plan has not been shown to be safe or in the public interest.
The special permit would add to the pollution and environmental harm suffered by communities like Marcus Hook, identified as an environmental justice community by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection and the origin of the proposed shipments. Marcus Hook is already home to oil refineries like Monroe Energy; Marcus Hook Terminal, a natural gas processing facility that was previously operating as a petroleum refinery; and the planned endpoint of a natural gas pipeline expansion. Although the exact routes of these trains are not specified, it is likely that shipments would pass through other communities with environmental justice concerns. Along with other arguments, the AGs explain that this lack of detail is inconsistent with PHMSA regulation and creates a barrier to participation for communities that may be affected.
“The application’s vagueness makes it impossible to determine whether already overburdened communities will be asked to bear the brunt of those safety concerns, and it renders fair and equitable treatment of those communities to an afterthought,” said Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown. “Approval of this application would be a serious blow to environmental justice.”
“Rail safety and controls to prevent accidents should be at the front of our minds when it comes to transporting hazardous materials by rail,” said Bethany Davis Noll, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law. “PHMSA must have complete information about communities that may be affected, safety protocols, and environmental risks before it can decide if such transport is in the public interest.”
Background — In 2020 a coalition of 16 attorneys general led by then-Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and New York Attorney General Letitia James filed comments in opposition to PHMSA’s proposal to allow rail transport of liquefied natural gas. The subsequent rule was then challenged by a similar coalition of 15 attorneys general in a petition for review where the coalition asserted that it posed unacceptable safety risks. In 2021 a coalition of 15 attorneys general supported a proposed suspension of the LNG by rail rule issued by PHMSA.
The attorneys general of Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Washington, D.C. joined AGs Brown and James in yesterday’s comments.
About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center:
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan academic center at NYU School of Law. The Center is dedicated to working towards a healthy and safe environment, guided by inclusive and equitable principles. The Center studies and supports the work of state attorneys general (AGs) in defending, enforcing, and promoting strong laws and policies in the areas of climate, environmental justice, environmental protection, and clean energy.