Congressman John Garamendi

Representing the 3rd District of California
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Garamendi Urges Immediate Action to Keep Communities Safe at Oil-By-Rail Press Conference with Federal Railroad Acting Administrator Feinberg, Local and State Leaders

April 8, 2015
Press Release

DAVIS, CA – Today, Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA), the former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, hosted a press conference in Davis to urge the implementation of stronger safety standards for hazardous material transported by rail, especially Bakken crude oil. Sensitive infrastructure and 16 million Americans are near these railroad shipment lines.

Garamendi also announced the introduction of H.R. 1679, the Bakken Crude Stabilization Act, which would dramatically reduce the volatility of oil transported by rail, thereby making it safer to transport.

The Congressman was joined by Sarah Feinberg, the Acting Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, as well as several local and state leaders.

“Every day we delay the implementation of a stronger safety standard for the transport of Bakken crude oil-by-rail, lives and communities are at risk,” Congressman Garamendi said. “We need the federal government to step in and ensure that the vapor pressure of transported crude oil is lower, making it more stable and safer to transport. We also need to upgrade and ensure the maintenance of rail lines, tank cars, brake systems, and our emergency response plans. My legislation to lower the maximum Reid vapor pressure to 9.5 psi in Bakken-by-rail transport, H.R. 1679, is meant to jumpstart this conversation before it’s too late.”

Local and state leaders in attendance at the press conference included Davis Mayor Dan Wolk, Marysville Mayor Ricky Samayoa, Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor, Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomson, Paul W. King, PhD, Deputy Director, Office of Rail Safety, Safety and Enforcement Division, California Public Utilities Commission, Eric Lamoureux, California Office of Emergency Services' Inland Regional Administrator, Dixon Fire Chief Aaron McAlister, Terry Bassett, Executive Director, Yolo County Transportation District, Dana Carey, Emergency Services Manager for the Yolo County Office of Emergency Services, and Don Ryan, Emergency Services Manager for the Solano County Office of Emergency Services.

“The railroad comprises the geographic and cultural heart of our community – in fact, it is the reason Davis is what it is today,” said Mayor Dan Wolk. “That is what makes this issue – the possibility of so many tank cars filled with Bakken crude oil passing through our community each day – so concerning to us.  We applaud the efforts of Congressman Garamendi and others on ensuring the safety of Davis and the region.”

"It is essential that the federal government act quickly and comprehensively. Public safety is paramount for the half million residents of our region who reside in close proximity to rail lines,” said Supervisor Don Saylor, Chair of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments Board of Directors.

“While oil by rail may provide some significant economic benefits for our County, we must be wary of its potential harms. As elected officials we must ensure that the necessary safeguards are in place to regulate this operation and protect our communities,” said Supervisor Skip Thomson. “I commend Congressman Garamendi for hosting this important event and look forward to a productive discussion on this critical issue with my colleagues.”

“It is key that we tackle this issue at all levels in order to ensure the safety not only within my district, but across the state,” said Senator Lois Wolk. “In order to improve the safety of transporting hazardous materials by rail, I support Governor Brown’s budget proposal for a fee, that I previously introduced, and is written into this year’s budget for local emergency preparedness. In addition, I have introduced Senate Bill 730 which would require that all freight trains operating in the state be manned by at least two people. This requirement ensures better communication and safety as well as operational efficiency.”

“The safety of our residents is of paramount importance. The federal government needs to ensure that the public safety and environment in our communities here and across the nation are protected,” Assemblymember Bill Dodd said. “Congressman Garamendi deserves recognition for raising the issues surrounding crude oil rail shipments and working towards solutions.”

The Danger

In July 2013, a crude-by-rail derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, killed 47 people. Several major accidents have occurred in the United States since then, including in Virginia, West Virginia, and Illinois. Fortunately, these accidents occurred in locations sufficiently far away from population centers that fatalities were avoided. Had they occurred in the middle of a city like Davis, a disaster on the scale of Lac-Megantic, or worse, could occur.

Letters to the Department of Transportation

On February 27, 2015, Garamendi and Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento, CA) led a Congressional letter to the Department of Transportation offering ideas on better safety protections and urging the Department of Transportation to issue – without delay – strong safety standards for oil-by-rail transportation.

On July 1, 2014, Garamendi and other Northern California Members wrote to the Department to urge the sharing of information with local entities, as well as the removal of most volatile elements from Bakken crude before it is loaded onto cars, the implementation of Positive Train Control technology, and the upgrading of rail cars.

Garamendi still shares these concerns.

Congressman Garamendi’s Legislation, H.R. 1679

The transportation of volatile and hazardous material by rail continues to be a top concern of localities in the region. Garamendi last week introduced H.R. 1679, a bill that would prohibit the transport of Bakken crude-by-rail unless it has a maximum Reid vapor pressure (RVP) of 9.5 psi. This is the maximum volatility permitted by the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) for crude oil futures contracts. For context, a recent literature review by Sandia Labs indicates that the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s Study of 152 Bakken crude samples found an average RVP of 11.7 psi and a max of 14.4 psi. A rule will go into effect in North Dakota this month setting the limit at 13.7 psi.

Further analysis and debate is warranted, and H.R. 1679 is intended to move debate forward and stress the urgency of action before more lives are needlessly lost.