This is the first post in a series that looks at the public comments provided to DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) on their advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) for possible regulations governing oil spill response planning for High-Hazardous Flammable Trains. Fifty comments have been received as of last Friday and 20 comments are posted to the current docket.
Most of the comments (18 of the 20 posted) received to date are from private individuals that feel that they might be impacted by a spill from one of these crude oil trains. Thirteen of those are part of an organized letter writing campaign organized by RiverKeeper.org. I have never understood why environmental organizations think that an organized letter writing campaign will sway regulators in their decisions about how or if regulations should be written. I suspect that these campaigns are more about keeping their members feeling like they are involved and having an effect rather than a real effort to affect the rulemaking process.
There is a very interesting ‘Anonymous’ comment that was obviously written by someone familiar with oil spill response planning. That comment coupled with one from a business group and another from a spill response consultant organization provide the most useful information in the comments to date. All three of these comments look at the rulemaking as an extension of current oil spill response regulations; they have various ideas about how the railroad situation parallels or differs from fixed installation, pipeline or maritime spill response situations. All are worth reading.
The first comment posted to this docket makes a point that PHMSA has yet to address and none of the commenter mentioned above look at, flaming oil. The comment from an individual starts with a very succinct statement of the problem: “Develop a plan for flaming oil running downhill or under other tank cars.” If the PHMSA regulations don’t at least make an effort to deal with that problem they will be incapable of preventing disasters like we saw in Canada last year.