Washington, D.C. — State attorneys general, led by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and New York Attorney General Letitia James, submitted comments yesterday objecting strongly to a proposal from two agencies in the Transportation Department (DOT) — the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) — that would allow liquefied natural gas (LNG) to be transported on trains with up to 100 rail cars through densely populated areas of the United States. The AGs warn that the proposed rule would “put the States’ residents, first responders and environmental resources at greater risk of catastrophic accidents” — a threat that PHMSA “has failed to adequately analyze just as it has failed to consider the environmental and climate impacts of allowing LNG to be shipped in rail tank cars.”
DOT’s proposal admits that the risks of transporting LNG by rail include “fireballs, flash fire, and explosions from ground-level vapor clouds” that reach nearly 2,500 °F. These risks are similar to those associated with transporting crude oil by rail, a practice that has increased 13,309 percent since 1995 and led to frequent accidents, including one in 2013 in Quebec that killed 47 people and leveled a small town. Today, more than 25 million Americans live within a mile of a rail line that carries crude oil.
“The Administration is bending to the will of the fossil fuel industry again, and it puts at risk neighborhoods, towns and cities across our nation,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. “Here in Maryland, we need only remember the Howard Street Tunnel Fire of 2001 to know that sending hazardous materials along our rail lines can have catastrophic consequences. LNG is dangerous, and the Trump administration has failed to provide for the safety of our people and our environment.”
“The Trump Administration has unabashedly bowed to industry requests to put aside the safety of millions of Californians who live, work, and attend schools near the routes of these dangerous trains,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “President Trump shouldn’t value the profits of industry over the safety of these communities. This proposed rule would turn cities across the country into potential crash-test laboratories to demonstrate the risk of LNG by rail.”
“This proposal from DOT is downright dangerous — and lacks a plan in case of catastrophic accidents, let alone damage to our environment,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. “LNG is extremely hazardous, and one mistake could cause catastrophic results.”
The AGs highlight two key areas of concern over the administration’s proposal, warning that it:
- Ignores the hazards of transporting LNG along domestic rail corridors, and the lack of experience and research on the risks of LNG, in violation of both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The comments point out that LNG spills pose a “high risk of fire” that can be difficult or impossible to extinguish, and that there is very limited experience and research in assessing the risks associated with the substance. In particular, the AGs cite comments from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) which emphasize that there is no data that “provide[s] a crashworthiness assessment for the [LNG] tank car design,” and comments from the National Association of State Fire Marshals opposing PHMSA’s proposal due to the “the lack of evidence and research that allowing such an action ... is safe either for America’s first responders or the public.” Furthermore, the AGs say that the proposed rule also “ignores the terrorism risks associated with LNG transport by unit trains.”
- Violates NEPA by overlooking the impact of pollution that would result, including greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants. The AGs point out that both industry groups and PHMSA itself have said that the proposed rule “will spur upstream production of natural gas and downstream demand,” and that NEPA requires “that an agency consider the environmental consequences of its proposed action before finalizing its course.” The AGs call the proposal’s environmental assessment “insubstantial,” and encourage PHMSA to withdraw the proposed rule pending the development of a full environmental impact statement as required by NEPA.
The proposed rule stems from an executive order signed by President Trump in April 2019 that sought to expand the nation’s energy infrastructure for fossil fuels, and specifically called for the Transportation Department to initiate this rulemaking.
The attorneys general of California, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia joined Maryland and New York in submitting the 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.