Bill will improve accountability of companies and require proactive planning

The New Jersey Work Environment Council (WEC) and allies commend the Assembly today for passing A2463, the Oil Train Safety bill.

The bill ensures that owners or operators of high-hazard trains have discharge response, cleanup, and contingency plans to transport certain hazardous materials by rail, and requires that the plans be filed with the State. The NJ Office of Emergency Management will share information with both county and local emergency service providers having jurisdiction in communities along the routes and offer training to emergency service personnel.

“We’re thankful to our legislative champions for getting this common-sense bill passed,” said Dan Fatton, executive director of New Jersey Work Environment Council. “Even one accident would have tremendous costs, and we hope that never comes to pass, but first responders, workers and community members have to be prepared for such an emergency, which this bill enables.”

The bill gives community members and emergency responders the right to know about crude oil and other high-hazard trains carrying certain chemicals, and would require owners or operators of high hazard trains to provide evidence of financial responsibility for cleaning up in the event of an accident. The US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has estimated damages from an oil train derailment in an area of average population to be $1 billion for lives lost, property ruined, and the clean-up costs. In a densely populated urban area, which more closely resembles many NJ communities, the estimate goes up to $5 billion in total damages.

“Today’s action by the Assembly is an important step forward for putting public safety ahead of corporate secrecy,” said John Pajak, president of International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 877 and WEC Board member representing workers at Phillips 66 Bayway refinery and Watco Crude Rail Terminal.

“Trains carrying hazardous, volatile crude oil travel daily at high speeds through densely populated communities. These trains pass and idle threateningly close to schools, hospitals, daycare facilities, and apartment complexes. The passage of this bill ensures effective emergency response planning to protect communities vulnerable to oil train accidents or derailments,” said Sandra Meola, communications and outreach associate, NY/NJ Baykeeper.

“These trains run and park in the Ironbound neighborhood, by schools and housing. The threat of one of these tankers exploding or leaking is inevitable. Our community demands the Right to Know what hazardous threats are possibly surrounding them, so that we can develop emergency planning procedures to protect ourselves. Action must be taken now to ensure that our community and all those impacted by these oil trains are protected from harm. This policy will be a first step in ensuring that our communities are better protected.” said Molly Greenberg, environmental justice policy manager, Ironbound Community Corporation.

As the Trump administration relaxes rules on fossil fuel extractions, we can anticipate even more high-hazard trains to be traversing through New Jersey. It’s important that communities and first responders have the right to know in order to ensure effective emergency response planning.

“For too long, we have been in the dark on exactly what it’s in the black freight trains that rumble through our communities,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey and WEC board member. “This bill will finally shed light on what’s in these trains — and ensure there’s emergency and clean-up plans in place if and when one of these trains derails.”

WEC and its partners applaud this legislative effort for transparency and emergency preparedness.  High hazard trains are visible and easily identifiable. Each train carrying hazardous chemicals is required by the US Department of Transportation to have a placard on it identifying the material inside. Placards are an important source of information for emergency responders, railroad employees and others. However, if trains are damaged, or worse, on fire, the placards may not help our first responders.

The State has refused to release information regarding how often crude oil trains travel through our communities and the volume of cargo contained within, both of which are vital for emergency preparedness and response. This contradicts action in other states that have released information on crude oil trains, including our neighbor, New York.

“The safety of citizens and first responders must be paramount when any type of hazardous or dangerous material is transported,” said Dominick Marino, president of Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey and WEC board member, “Knowing the correct information is the only way first responders can properly plan, train and prepare for an emergency. By passing this bill today, the Legislature has ensured that the first responders and the citizens of New Jersey are better protected.  We hope the Governor will too by signing this bill into law.”

“When a train carrying Bakken crude oil derails, it is a disaster. If it happened in New Jersey, it would be a tragedy of epic proportions. That is why we need this legislation. We need to make sure there are response and emergency plans if something happens with one of these rail cars at a moment’s notice. These response plans will allow the public to be informed, especially ahead of time to help prepare for an emergency. With up to 50 trains per week going through our communities, we cannot afford to play Russian Roulette with our environment and our people,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club and WEC board member.

WEC and allies would like to thank the Assembly bill primary sponsors Assemblyman Eustace (D-38), Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle (D-37), Assemblywoman Caride (D-36), Assemblywoman Maher Muoio (D-15), Assemblyman Lagana (D-38), Assemblywoman Lampitt (D-6), and Assemblyman Mukherji (D-33), as well as the Senate bill (S806) sponsors Senator Weinberg (D-37), Senator Gordon (D-38), and Senator Bateman (R-16). The Senate bill passed in June 2016.

“Now the bill goes to Governor Christies’ desk to await his signature. Every day he doesn’t sign it, he continues to put our communities and emergency responders at risk,” said Debra Coyle McFadden, assistant director of the NJ Work Environment Council.