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US States Challenge Trump Administration's 'Unlawful' Allowance of LNG 'Bomb Trains'

© Earthjustice/Sûreté du QuébecThe crude-by-rail explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, killed 47 people in 2013.
The crude-by-rail explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, killed 47 people in 2013. - Sputnik International
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Several US states, as well as a California-based nonprofit, have taken legal action against a recent Trump administration decision authorizing the railway transportation of up to 30,000 gallons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) per tank car. Ships that carry the substance have been described by one state attorney general as “floating bombs.”

Environmental public interest organization Earthjustice announced on Tuesday that it had filed a petition for review against the US Department of Transportation and its Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) over the recent federal decision to allow the bulk transportation of LNG in rail tank cars, effective August 24.

“It would only take 22 tank cars to hold the equivalent energy of the Hiroshima bomb,” Earthjustice attorney Jordan Luebkemann asserted in the release. “It’s unbelievably reckless to discard the critical, long-standing safety measures we have in place to protect the public from this dangerous cargo. That’s why we’re filing this challenge.”

Earthjustice explained in its news release that while LNG is cooled during transport, a disturbance of its container could cause the gas to rapidly expand “by 600 times its volume.” Furthermore, the LNG’s escape on a single rail car can turn the whole transport vehicle into a “bomb train” that may be powerful enough to “destroy a city.”

The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and Mountain Watershed Association are all listed as petitioners in the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit filing.

The District of Columbia and the US states of Maryland, New York, California, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington state have also filed a petition for review in the same DC court, arguing that the “rule is unlawful and therefore must be vacated.”

Democratic New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal claimed in a Tuesday Twitter post that the Trump administration’s fast-tracking of the decision “without adequate safety and environmental studies” poses a risk to US citizens across the nation.

“Ships carrying LNG have been characterized as floating bombs,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh in an August 18 release on the filing.

“Rolling tank cars filled with LNG through our neighborhoods are vastly more dangerous. 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.”

Earthjustice highlighted that this current fear of the potential hazard of “bomb trains” is not rooted only in theory. In fact, a train transporting crude oil - which is much less explosive than LNG - derailed while traveling through Lac Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013.

The derailment led to a fire that then spread throughout the entire train, causing boiling liquid expanding vapor explosions in several cars. The incident not only leveled the town center, but also killed 47 people.

The group asserted that due to LNG being more explosive, a similar derailment of a train carrying it could “produce a fireball up to a mile wide.”

“There’s a very good reason liquefied natural gas has never been shipped by rail in this country, and that’s because it’s wildly unsafe,” Joseph Otis Minott, executive director and chief counsel of the Clean Air Council, said in the Earthjustice release.

“I don’t want these dangerous trains going through my neighborhood, and trust me, you don't either.”

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