August 21, 2020
LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel recently joined a coalition of attorneys general in asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review the Trump administration’s rushed attempt to open the nation’s railways to the bulk shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) predicts that trains with 80-100 tank cars, with each tank car carrying over 30,000 gallons of LNG, will be operating on our nationwide rail network as a result of the LNG by Rail Rule.
“The lack of safety measures proposed by this administration and the risks posed to our communities are serious red flags I cannot overlook,” Nessel said. “I’ve joined my colleagues in asking the Court to intervene and review this rule to keep our communities safe. Studies on how to safely transport liquefied natural gas by rail are still ongoing, and this administration has rushed to implement a rule that will needlessly endanger people’s lives and threaten our environment.”
LNG is an extremely hazardous substance that must be stored below minus 260℉ to maintain its liquid state. When exposed to atmospheric conditions, a liquid LNG pool will quickly volatize into natural gas, creating a super cold cloud of odorless, flammable and potentially explosive gas. If ignited, the gas cloud will burn back to its liquid source creating an inextinguishable pool of fire. Gas clouds have also been observed to travel far downwind from their release point, bringing the risk of explosion to unsuspecting communities.
The LNG by Rail Rule imposes only minimal operational controls on trains carrying LNG. The rule explicitly rejects any use of mandatory speed limits and imposes few measures to protect rail crews from their hazardous cargo. Moreover, PHMSA provides no support for concluding that the few operational controls that it does require from LNG trains – namely the remote monitoring of tank pressures, non-binding routing criteria, the use of brake technology with a checkered safety history, and an increased tank shell thickness – will reduce the risk of catastrophic accident.
PHMSA also doesn’t provide any support for increasing the allowed filling capacity of each LNG tank car from the amount suggested in the proposed rule. PHMSA’s decision to rely on an absence of data to support its conclusions is unjustifiable given that several studies to examine the safety of transporting LNG in rail tank cars are due to be completed in the next few years.
Attorney General Nessel joined her colleagues in January urging the Trump administration to withdraw its proposal until PHMSA and the Federal Railways Administration could complete safety studies and then develop a full Environmental Impact Statement that rigorously considers the public safety and climate change implications of permitting the nationwide transport of LNG by rail.
Potentially allowing the bulk transport of LNG by rail along through Michigan—including through densely populated areas—would create significant and serious risks of catastrophic accidents. Additionally, the increased use of natural gas that would occur as a result of this proposal would result in greater emissions of greenhouse gases, which pose a threat to the environment.
In addition to Michigan, the petition was joined by the attorneys general of California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.