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Rule OK’s chemical tankers through cities

The railroad regulation is one of the latest ‘midnight rule changes’ by the outgoing administration.

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Critics note that there will be no way for local or state officials to know for sure if their concerns are being taken into account. That’s because there is no requirement that state and local officials be notified of the route once it is finalized or be informed of the decisionmaking process that determined it. Such decisions are considered “security sensitive” by the federal government and so will remain secret from state and local officials.

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“All of the documentation will be secret, and the results will be secret,” says Fred Millar, a consultant to the environmental group Friends of the Earth. “It’s conceivable that not a single elected official in this country will be told the results of this, because the only people that need to be told are people with a ‘need to know’. Challenging any decision is just going to be a can of worms.”

Railroads pledge public safety

But railroad officials say such concerns are overblown, and they insist they will ask for local input in making their decision, as they always have.
“The railroads are already working with local governments and [hazardous material] people and the chemical companies and will continue to do so,” says Tom White, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads in Washington, an industry trade group.

He also insists the regulation is designed in a way that best protects the public, because the people who are best equipped to understand the security of hazmat transport are the ones making the decision.

“It is the railroads who understand best what is required to transport hazardous materials, and it is the railroads who understand best the routes and their technical limitations,” says Mr. White. “If you started giving local authorities the ability to mandate rerouting you could end up with a situation where it would be impossible to move the stuff at all. Why? Because every local community would then do that.”

The American Chemistry Council in Arlington, Va., which represents chemical companies, asserts that the transport of hazardous materials should be in federal, not state and local, hands. “Our primary concern has always been that there be a federal approach to this,” says council spokesman Scott Jensen. “You really need to take a comprehensive approach to the routing of chemicals because of the very nature of the rail system.”

But state and local officials are concerned the railroads may end up favoring routes that are the most financially expedient rather than the most secure. “Without the input of state and local officials it’s hard to know what will motivate the decisions in routing,” says Ms. Frederick.