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 September 2, 2023

Biden revokes Trump-era permission to transport natural gas through rail

The Biden administration is suspending a policy from the Trump administration that allowed natural gas to be transported by rail. The administration cited safety concerns when rolling back the rule, as The Hill reported.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) suspended the 2020 policy on Friday until it can publish a companion rule or until June 30, 2025, if a rule is not finalized by then.

The Department of Transportation stated that its action would prevent “potential risks to public health and safety or environmental consequences” and allow for additional testing and the incorporation of potential mitigation measures.

This year's derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which resulted in the release of toxic vinyl chloride, was specifically cited in the department's new suspension rule. This train did not transport natural gas, but it did renew interest in the issue of rail safety in general.

In 2020, the Trump administration issued a rule deeming the rail transport of liquefied natural gas as a "safe alternative" for moving the important commodity.

It was stated that a particular model of tank car has a “established track record of safety in transporting other cryogenic flammable materials.”

Two environmental organizations promptly threatened legal action against the Trump administration in response to a newly published rule permitting the transport of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail.

The rule, which permits the transport of LNG in rail tank cars, was finalized and published in the Federal Register on Friday.

In the past, a special permit was required to transport LNG in this manner.

Comparing a specific form of tank car to other modes of transportation, the administration determined that this method is a "safe alternative" for transporting gasoline.

However, environmentalists have expressed doubts regarding the safety of LNG rail transport.

“The explosion risk of transporting this volatile cargo in vulnerable tank cars through major population centers is off the charts,” Earthjustice attorney Bradley Marshall said in a statement threatening to sue the former administration over the rule. 

“It would only take 22 tank cars to hold the equivalent energy of the Hiroshima bomb,” Marshall said. “We will hold [the Trump] administration accountable for its responsibility to protect Americans from disaster.”

Elaine Chao, secretary of transportation at the time the rule was finalized, praised the transport method as a means to deliver energy to more areas of the country.

“The Department’s new rule carefully lays out key operational safeguards to provide for the safe transportation of LNG by rail to more parts of the country where this energy source is needed,” she said in a statement.

Additionally, the Center for Biological Diversity threatened to file a lawsuit against the administration over the rule.

The Center attorney Emily Jeffers said in a statement at the time that, “The Trump administration’s reckless LNG rule risks explosions and fires in populated areas. We’ll fight to protect our communities from this deadly threat."

Written By:
Charlotte Tyler

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