Capitol Alert

California wants to prevent ‘bomb trains’ from running through neighborhoods

A Union Pacific oil train derailed and caught fire in Mozier, Oregon, in June 2016.
A Union Pacific oil train derailed and caught fire in Mozier, Oregon, in June 2016.

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California’s chief law enforcement officer wants to prevent rail cars carrying highly flammable, potentially explosive crude oil from cutting through cities across California, including Sacramento.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra says he’s concerned that so-called “bomb trains” carrying explosive crude oil could get derailed or explode in major population centers or sensitive ecological areas.

“A derailment or explosion could put countless lives at risk and cause major damage to our land and waterways,” Becerra said in a statement. “This risk is simply acceptable. I urge the Trump administration to act immediately.”

In a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and other federal transportation officials, Becerra on Thursday petitioned the federal government to increase safety standards for crude oil being transported in California – particularly Bakken. Oil produced from the region in North Dakota has components that could make it ignite easier and cause it to be more flammable, including higher gas content and higher vapor pressure, according to federal regulators.

“While the shipment by rail of crude oil into California has not increased as previously anticipated, shipments of crude oil into the state by any means pose potential threats to California’s people and environment and must be addressed,” Becerra said in the letter to federal regulators. “There are high hazard areas for derailments along every rail route into California. Some are located in urban areas, including highly populated areas such as the San Bernardino-Riverside and San Luis Obispo regions.”

Becerra and attorneys general from New York and four other states are asking regulators to adopt new rules requiring crude oil be treated in a way that lowers the vapor pressure, making it less inflammatory. The letter was sent the Department of Transportation and its division of Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in response to an “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking” by the agencies on crude oil standards. Oil industries have opposed stricter limits on the level of vapor pressure inside traincars carrying crude.

Becerra and others referenced the deadly 2013 freight train derailment in Quebec, Canada. It was carrying Bakken crude oil when it derailed in a city center, killing 47 people.

In the U.S., shipments have declined in the past two years, but “crude-by-rail is certain to continue and likely increase,” the letter said.

WORTH REPEATING: “The new Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act is no better than the old plan – 23 million Americans still lose health care, Medicaid still gets gutted, premiums will still increase and the richest Americans still reap huge tax cuts.” – Sen. Dianne Feinstein

ASSEMBLY APPROPRIATIONS: More than 500 bills that would have a fiscal impact on California are up for a hearing in Assembly Appropriations. The hearing will spell the fate for measures seeking to eliminate the mortgage interest deduction on second homes and generate a pot of money for farmworker and other housing (Assembly Bill 71 from Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco), reform the bail system (Assembly Bill 42 from Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda) and extend the state’s cap-and-trade system (Assembly Bill 378 from Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens).

SALMON IN CRISIS: With salmon fisheries collapsing, Gov. Jerry Brown and Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, are seeking a federal disaster declaration from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Brown took action following a request from the state Legislature.

“The California salmon fishery is our state’s oldest and it’s one of the most iconic fisheries in America,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, responding to Brown’s federal request. “Thousands of working families on the North Coast are in crisis and desperately need our help – today’s action by the governor brings us one step closer to providing that support.”

MEMORIAL DAY: Lawmakers are attending events commemorating fallen military service members are happening all over the state. A Memorial Day ceremony remembering Mexican American veterans is set for Monday at 1 p.m. downtown Sacramento.

Sunday, Vietnam Veterans for America is hosting an annual “reading of the names” remembering those who died in the Vietnam War. It kicks off at 7 a.m. at Capitol Park in Sacramento and is set to conclude at 7 p.m.