Federal government sued over rail car oil spill risk

Oregon residents may have heard that the U.S. Department of Transportation is being sued by the environmental groups ForestEthics and the Sierra Club. The environmental litigation, filed on Sept. 11, follows a legal petition that the groups delivered in July 2014. According to the petition, the groups demanded that the U.S. DOT prohibit older railroad tank cars, called DOT-111s, from transporting crude oil. They claim that these older railroad cars pose a significant environmental hazard because they are vulnerable to ruptures or punctures in an accident.

Accident investigators have long been calling for the DOT-111s to be retired from service, and lawmakers proposed in July new rules that would gradually cease the use of these older rail cars, which tend to carry flammable liquids such as crude oil. However, the environmental groups are not satisfied with the proposed rules. They say that the government plan will take too long to implement, and they argue that populated areas near railway lines will be placed at risk for several years if the timetable is not amended.

Ruptured rail cars have led to crude oil spills in 10 major derailments in the U.S. and Canada since 2008. The most serious of these accidents involved a runaway train carrying crude oil in 2013. The accident claimed the lives of 47 people when the train exploded in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic.

Timing may be a crucial factor when legal action is taken over environmental issues. The actions in question are frequently ongoing, and swift action may be required to prevent damages from growing further. Attorneys with environmental lawsuit experience may have a clear understanding of the complex issues this type of case deals with.

Source: Oregon Live, "Environmental groups sue U.S. Department of Transportation over oil train safety", September 11, 2014

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