File photo of oil train tankers in a Portland railyard.

File photo of oil train tankers in a Portland railyard.

Tony Schick/OPB

Three Northwest environmental groups are among those suing the Obama Administration over its new safety rules for oil trains.

The final rules, released last week, aim to reduce the likelihood of oil train explosions through new tank car design standards, speed limits, and other regulations.
 
But Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of seven environmental organizations, including Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Spokane Riverkeeper, and Washington Environmental Council, claiming that the new rules are inadequate and will take too long to have an effect on current operations. The new regulations will phase out or retrofit older, more dangerous tank cars, but that process could take up to a decade.
 
“It’s not theoretical; these tank cars are known to be weak,” said Rebecca Ponzio, oil campaign director for Washington Environmental Council. “They’re known to explode when there’s a derailment. And derailments are common. We’ve seen five derailments since the beginning of 2015.” The most recent of those occurred in Bismarck, North Dakota, on May 6.
 
Trains carrying large quantities of crude oil are putting the Pacific Northwest at risk, Ponzio said. Four of the five refineries in the Puget Sound region are allowed to accept mile-long crude oil trains. “These new rules take too long to implement,” she said. Instead of a phase-out process, “We believe there should be an immediate ban of the weakest tank cars right now.”
 
The lawsuit also contends that the new rules reduce public access to information about train routes and emergency preparedness – and that new speed limits for these trains will only apply in regions deemed “high threat urban areas,” leaving out many communities along the rail lines.  
 
Ed Greenberg, a spokesman from the Association of American Railroads issued a statement saying that the group was “relieved” to see the new federal regulations “after years of urging the federal government to impose more stringent tank car design standards.” The Association continues to evaluate the entire rule.