15 Attorneys General Sue Trump Administration to Stop Gas Transport by Rail

Final Rule to allow LNG trains with enhanced braking, safer tanks
August 20, 2020 Updated: August 20, 2020

A coalition of 15 attorneys general filed a lawsuit this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to challenge a final rule that would allow the transportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by specially reinforced rail tank cars in the United States.

Up until now, the transportation of LNG by train in the United States required a special permit, and was then only possible in portable tanks fixed to rail cars.

Published in the Federal Register on July 24, the rule authorized the transportation of cryogenically cooled LNG in DOT-113 tank cars, as the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) had determined that “bulk rail transport is a safe alternative for this energy product.” The rule states that such transportation can be carried out safely and in accordance with Federal Hazardous Materials Transportation law.

According to the text of the final rule, “LNG…has been transported safely by trucks on highways and by marine vessels for over 40 years in the United States, and over 50 years internationally.”

In addition, the rule foresees that the DOT-113 tank car used to transport LNG—a highly flammable liquid—would be enhanced by a thicker, puncture-resistant steel outer shell, in addition to other train safety features such as enhanced braking specifications, remote monitoring systems, and route analysis that would exceed current safety requirements for other flammable liquids.

Lawsuit Against LNG Transportation

However, the attorneys general of California, Maryland, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia say that they consider LNG transportation to be of grave danger to human health.

“Californians who live, work, or go to school near train routes are not interested in being specimens in a crash-test laboratory for the Trump Administration,” said California’s Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, in a statement. “Today, we’re going to court because our families expect our government to put their safety first, not put them in harm’s way.”

Becerra claims that accidents or derailments involving trains carrying LNG could cause catastrophic explosions and intense fires.

In the statement, the Californian AG also objected to the transportation of LNG on the grounds that in its regasified form of natural gas, such cargoes contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases. He claimed that the production and combustion of natural gas in the United States made up a quarter of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2018.

Maryland’s attorney general, Brian Frosch, called the Trump administration’s move to allow LNG to be transported along rail lines “rushed.” He said the rule would allow trains pulling 80 to 100 tank cars onto the nation’s rail network, with each train carrying over 30,000 gallons of LNG.

“This proposal is heedless of the risks to the safety of our families and our natural resources posed by moving massive quantities of LNG by rail through our cities, towns,” Frosch said in a statement.

Frosch also claimed that the rule did not specify mandatory speed limits for LNG trains, that the routing criteria were non-binding, and that the history of rail-car braking technology has a checkered history.

Praise for Final Rule

In contrast, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chow said in June that the final rule provided for the safe transportation of LNG to locations in the United States where adequate natural gas provision is difficult.

A statement from the PHMSA at the time said that the rule complies with President Donald Trump’s 2019 Executive Order on Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth, which promised efficient permitting processes and regulations that reflect best practice and the best available technology for energy projects.

In addition, the Executive Director at industry advocacy group the Center for LNG, Charlie Riedl, said the rule would help the industry serve more markets within the United States.

“We applaud this decision from PHMSA and USDOT which places LNG in the same classification as many other industrial chemicals, fit for rail transport,” Riedl said. “This rule will help underserved markets with limited access to energy infrastructure benefit from natural gas, economically and environmentally.”

Riedl said the rule would also provide certainty to industries and manufacturers who wanted to increase their use of natural gas.