Spokane Riverkeeper joins lawsuit against new oil train regulations

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Clean water advocate the Spokane Riverkeeper has joined a coalition of other environmental groups suing the Obama administration over what they say are inadequate safeguards on potentially explosive oil trains.

On May 14, Spokane Riverkeeper joined ForestEthics, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, Washington Environmental Council, Friends of the Columbia Gorge and the Center for Biological Diversity in filing a lawsuit against the Obama administration in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals over its new oil train safety standards.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation put in place a new set of standards intended to make the increasing number of oil trains traversing the country (including Spokane) less likely to derail and explode. The standards include enhanced braking on trains, reduced operating speeds and retrofits of existing tank cars.

Shortly after being announced, the new standards drew criticism from Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell.

“The new DOT rule is just like saying let the oil trains roll. It does nothing to address explosive volatility, very little to reduce the threat of rail car punctures, and is too slow on the removal of the most dangerous cars,” said Cantwell in a statement. “It’s more of a status quo rule than the real safety changes needed to protect the public and first responders.”

According to the lawsuit, the new rules were written “arbitrarily, capriciously, and contrary to law.” The rules, according to the lawsuit, have an “unduly long” 10-year phase-out period for DOT-111s and CPC-1232s, tank cars that critics say are unsafe for transporting oil. The lawsuit also faults the new rules for giving local jurisdictions inadequate notification and having a less protective standard for retrofitted tank cars.