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Over Easy: Conflict Minerals

3:47 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

On Monday, the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a ruling in National Association Of Manufacturers, Et Al.,v. Securities And Exchange Commission(SEC). Citing freedom of speech, the court ruled that companies cannot be compelled to disclose whether the minerals they use to manufacture their products came from “conflict mineral” areas.

Conflict minerals involve tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold, and are often associated with electronics devices, or the Information Technology (IT) industry. The term refers to minerals that are mined in the remote eastern Congo region of Africa, in unregulated mines under conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses. Warlords obtain and profit from the minerals utilizing rape, child labor, child soldiers, extortion and other business methods that are legendary for human exploitation, including slavery, torture and murder by starvation. In addition, the real profiteers of the literal gold mine do not live in the Congo. Rather, many of them live here.

Congress responded in 2010 to the human rights catastrophe with the Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection Act, requiring the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to initiate regulations compelling companies to disclose whether or not the minerals originated from a conflict-free area. The SEC Conflict Minerals Rule was set to require manufacturers to disclose conflict mineral information on their websites and file a report with the SEC with full compliance this year.

The manufacturers responded by suing the SEC in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia claiming that their first amendment right to freedom of expression is violated by a rule that compels them to disclose unfavorable information that might hurt their bottom line. The district court rejected their argument and granted summary judgment for the SEC and the ACLU. The Manufacturer’s Association appealed to the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The Court writes (at page 20):

Products and minerals do not fight conflicts. The label ‘conflict free’ is a metaphor that conveys moral responsibility for the Congo war. It requires an issuer to tell consumers that its products are ethically tainted, even if they only indirectly finance armed groups. An issuer, including an issuer who condemns the atrocities of the Congo war in the strongest terms, may disagree with that assessment of its moral responsibility. And it may convey that ‘message’ through ‘silence.’ See Hurley, 515 U.S. at 573. By compelling an issuer to confess blood on its hands, the statute interferes with that exercise of the freedom of speech under the First Amendment.
See id.

Hogwash! Silence is not disclosure. Up is not down. The First Amendment protects our freedom to express our opinions and it protects the freedom of the press so that we have the necessary information to form evidence based opinions and vote intelligently. In other words, the First Amendment protects the public’s right to know. It was never intended to protect silence.

The Fifth Amendment protects silence. A person cannot be compelled to testify against himself in a criminal case. It does not protect a corporation like a tobacco company from disclosing that cigarettes are harmful to health and may cause cancer. Likewise, since a company’s decisions about sourcing in its supply chain can impact the funding of conflict, it must be able to make informed choices about conflict minerals in its supply. Furthermore, “conflict free” is not a metaphor. It is a yes or a no to a question.

Our right to know is what this case is about. We have a right to know if products we buy are available for purchase as a result of outlaws, thieves, murderers-for-hire, rapists and butchers specializing in human rights violations conducting their business.

That said, it is likely that the SEC will seek an en banc review in this case, as the ruling issued on Monday was not unanimous. One of the justices held back, pending the outcome of en banc review in a similar case that has to do with disclosure in meat labeling.

Amazingly enough, today is Emancipation Day, a holiday in Washington DC to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act, which president Abraham Lincoln signed on April 16, 1862.


Conflict-free smelters and refiners

Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition -EICC – Extractives and Conflict Minerals Resources


The Decorah Eagles Live Cam

Where We Were When FDR Passed Away

3:48 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

USS Lacerta (AKA-29). The Lacerta was an Artemis-class attack cargo ship. (photo: Wikipedia)

Ray Owings, age 91, and Letty Owings, age 89, recall their memories before and after April 12, 1945, when US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) passed away. FDR was elected for four consecutive terms, and remains the only president ever to serve more than eight years.

Letty shares:

When Roosevelt was elected in 1933, my mother didn’t have voting rights, or at least that was how the culture viewed things at the time. At that time and in that community, women did not vote, even though legally, they could. My dad and my grandfather rode together in the buggy, to vote. My dad voted for incumbent Herbert Hoover, because Hoover was the popular candidate in the small German farming community where we lived, in Missouri. But then, FDR got it.

In the coming years our lives became one leader, and one direction, and that direction was the war. When Ray got his orders in 1944, he brought me a dozen roses, to tell me. I ran out of the house to greet him. But, I was wearing slacks, and my mother followed me, irate, because she did not think that a man should see a woman wearing slacks. That is how our world has changed.

I was in front of the wind charger radio when I heard of FDR’s passing.

Ray was in the Pacific.

Ray shares:

In Fort Pierce, Florida in 1944 I was training a boat group of 160 men. They thought I was mean. I thought they were the dregs, but they turned out to be good. In December 1944, I got my orders, and we reported to the USS Lacerta. She was just being finished and they were loading stores in Norfolk, Virginia.

We cleared Norfolk on January 18, 1945 and sailed to Cuba and then the Panama Canal before heading to Pearl Harbor where we loaded hospital crew and cargo for Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands. There is so much water in the world. On February 23, 1945 we crossed the equator and the international date line at the same time. On February 27, we arrived in Guadalcanal, unloaded cargo and picked up a group of Marines: a 155mm Howitzer artillery group, for the Okinawa invasion.

We departed Saipan on March 27 and began to prepare for invasion. On April 1, we unloaded Marines from Guadalcanal onto the west side of Okinawa, where they joined others. There were kamikaze and also, kamikaze boats around us.

The marine group on the beach needed ammunition desperately, and we lowered Lacerta’s boats to deliver the shells. A typhoon was close to us, the water was real rough, with 10-12 foot waves, and we were the only boat group at that time to be unloading. It was difficult in the rough seas, but we were able to do it.

We departed Okinawa on April 9, 1945 for Saipan, and on our way there, we heard on the ship’s radio that Roosevelt had died. When we arrived in Saipan on April 20, I learned by a signal sent to the ship, that my first daughter had been born, in March.

Letty adds:

There was a time when right and wrong all got changed, a time when the rules of war and the international laws all went up in the air and generals fought with one another about how to fight.

Prior to this and during the Great Depression, a man, a poor man, approached my grandfather, another poor man, at a farmers’ gathering. Radio was a recent invention. The man asked a question. It was not a question about finance. The man asked simply, “Can you help me understand the world?”

Saturday Art: Tokyo Reverse

4:19 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Watch 28-year-old artist and photographer Ludovic Zuili, who spent more than nine hours walking backwards through Tokyo, while friend Simon Bouisson captured him on film…then played it in reverse.

The nine-hour version that aired on TV in France last month is here.

Over Easy: America’s D+ Infrastructure

3:37 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

A pothole in a cracked roadway, filled with rainwater.

American infrastructure is falling apart.

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issues a report card based on the A-F grading system, for America’s infrastructure. Infrastructure involves more than the 65,000 US bridges in need of repair, or the potholes that ate Indianapolis. America earned a D+ average across sixteen categories according to eight criteria: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation.

The Infrastructure report card is here. The grades:

Aviation D
Bridges C+
Dams D
Drinking Water D
Energy D+
Hazardous Waste D
Inland Waterways D-
Levees D-
Ports C
Public Parks and Recreation C-
Rail C+
Roads D
Schools D
Solid Waste B-
Transit D
Wastewater D

How are we doing today?

While America spends huge amounts of money on non-emergency or made up issues, like surveillance or hollowing out America or keeping alligators off the football field, the place is falling apart. The D+ average reflects a crisis in America’s infrastructure. But just when you think things cannot get any worse, they do. For example:

Schools received a D grade. One must get a shovel and dig to get this low, but yesterday the Washington Post reports Koch brothers help Kansas lawmakers strip teachers of tenure. Here’s what these egregious horrendous human beings did:

The Kansas legislature just passed legislation that strips teachers of tenure and the right to due process, a move pushed by conservative lawmakers who were forced by a state Supreme Court ruling to provide more funding to poor school districts and wanted to get something out of the deal. After stripping teachers of their tenure, legislators had a brief discussion about jewelry.

So, after screwing teachers and school children, who have no money and no political clout, the discussion that the taxpayers were funding progressed to more important things like personal jewelry. Brought to you by ALEC and the Koch Brothers, that gets an F. Since there is no longer tenure, I can not imagine that a teacher could lose much by explaining how a bill becomes law, and also explaining why 40 children are sharing one schoolbook, and who proposed the bill.

Every two minutes in America, a water pipe breaks. If you own the home on top of the broken pipe, you must pay for the repair, even if the pipes were installed decades before your arrival. Seven trillion gallons of treated drinking water are lost yearly in the US, due to leaking pipes, and leaking pipes can lead to mold and other serious property damage. The customer pays for the chemicals to treat the water, as well as the pumps, pipes and electricity to run the pumps, but there is no note on the water bill that says you are paying for lost water due to failing infrastructure.

Energy’s D+ is notable because my husband and I are one of many residents in an area spanning several states, with a power bill horror story. At first I thought our power bill, which was suddenly higher than God, was a mistake, but then we began asking others, and in many cases the electric bill matches the rent, or exceeds it. While some companies claim “polar vortex,” we believe the residential customer is absorbing the cost of aging structure in the electricity grid.

Bridges earned a C+, with one in nine reported as structurally deficient, carrying more than two hundred million travelers each day. A United States Structurally Deficient Bridges on the National Highway Systems map from the Department of Transportation is here, and things are not looking up. According to an audit released Tuesday in Louisiana, the transportation department couldn’t exactly prove it had inspected 16 percent of the bridges in the state, and several hundred others were late in inspection or deficient in other ways. The pdf audit is here.

Hazardous waste received a D grade. Last week, Mercury News reported that home improvement giant Lowe’s was ordered to pay 18 million in fines for illegal hazardous waste disposal:

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Over Easy: IPCC WG2 2014 Climate Change Report

4:05 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

On Monday, Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its report on the current state of scientific knowledge about the changing climate. The report did not mince words: extreme weather events are already occurring and catalyzed by carbon emissions. The good news is that adaptation is possible, if communities and governments immediately and aggressively pursue adaptation and mitigation.

If the climate extremes continue unabated, systems that will be impacted are:

  • availability of water, and clean water.
  • There will be negative impacts on crop yields, especially in the lower latitudes. We have already seen the devastating effects of drought to agriculture, for example.
  • Migration of species. As species move away from areas that impact survival and reproduction, they face new challenges and difficulties in the new locations, specifically, difficulty living together with new species.
  • There will be greater instance of disease, morbidity and mortality; the urban poor are especially at risk.
  • Lowline coastal areas could be vulnerable to extreme weather events, and even catastrophic damage.
  • Conflict can be exacerbated, compromising territorial integrity, and leading to displacement.

The key to our survival will be the extent to which we are willing to mitigate, and adapt. The upcoming working group 3 will talk about emissions of greenhouse gases. We simply have no more excuses , according to this IPCC Review. Everyone has a reason to care about it.

The IPCC Report scientists expressed particular concern with the marine environments. The report is large, and it states in the beginning that everyone should have good reason to be concerned with the findings, and pay close attention to Working Group 3′s Report that will be issued later this year, addressing adaptation and mitigation. Reading between the lines, our governments are currently insufficiently prepared for the reality of a changing climate that is impacting our food, water, health and survival.


The world is not ready for the impacts of climate change, including more extreme weather and the likelihood that populated parts of the planet could be rendered uninhabitable, says the planet’s leading body of climate scientists in a major new UN report. (National Geographic)

Over Easy: Driverless Cars

4:00 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

On Monday, five days after Toyota reached a record-breaking 1.2 billion dollar settlement with the Department of Justice regarding sudden uncontrolled acceleration allegations, RAND Corporation’s James Anderson held a congressional briefing to present information for policymakers and to discuss the benefits of — you guessed it — self-driving vehicles.

Tanya Snyder of USA Streetsblog, summarizes the briefing in an article titled “How the Self-Driving Car Could Spell the End of Parking Craters:”

At a Congressional briefing this week, the RAND Corporation’s James Anderson, author of a recent report on the prospects for autonomous vehicles, said he is convinced that while there are advantages and disadvantages to driverless cars, ‘the societal benefits exceed the costs.’

The best possible scenario involves a fleet of shared driverless cars and the elimination of private vehicle ownership. Cars would be in constant use, so the amount of land reserved for parking could be greatly reduced. Even if driverless car technology comes on the market soon, however, that version of the future may never arrive.

Driverless cars will park themselves, reducing the need for parking space. Also, they will accelerate and brake more efficiently than humans, increasing fuel efficiency. The cars will have sensors that will allow them to drive closer together, possibly decreasing congestion. Safety “is considered to be the most clear-cut benefit of self-driving cars.”

Car “autopilot” technology is partially here, with some automated functions like cruise control in current working form on public roads. Several automakers have been working with companies like Google, and have progressed to a point where it is time for policymakers to figure out who would be liable, for example, for a crash. writes:

Sorting out who would be responsible for such an incident is one of the hairiest challenges for policymakers, and their success depends on lawmakers getting that policy right.

Not only are there few answers so far, but there isn’t even clarity on who is in charge of setting the rules — and that’s setting up the sort of Washington turf wars that are famous for grinding things to a halt.

Policymakers will need to delve into the specifics soon, given the progress automakers and companies like Google have made in advancing driverless cars. Audi spokesman Brad Stertz says his company could roll out the first iteration of driverless cars by 2019.

The RAND Corporation research publication authored by James Anderson and titled Autonomous Vehicle Technology: A Guide for Policymakers says that full-scale commercial introduction of “truly autonomous (including driverless)” cars is predicted to occur within five to twenty years. Florida, Michigan, California, Nevada and DC already have some policies in place for testing these vehicles on public roads. The vehicles were featured in Las Vegas at CES 2014, the technology trade show.

There are also potential drawbacks. For one thing, driverless cars are data guzzlers, and who has access to the data and how it will be handled is yet unknown.

John Gould, of the Wall Street Journal explains that the self-driving car will collect an enormous amount of information using technology both inside and outside the vehicle: cameras, radar, lidar (remote sensing using laser), sonar, GPS, bumper sensors, vehicle-to-vehicle wireless communication, rooftop sensors, side sensors, and GPS sensors on the antenna.

The driverless car is a rolling data farmer, which may be wonderful in theory but a privacy and cyber security nightmare in reality. Other potential drawbacks include liability and regulatory issues.

For the Rand study, “Anderson and his colleagues reviewed the current literature on the subject and conducted interviews with 30 stakeholders, including automobile manufacturers, technology companies, communications providers, representatives from state regulatory agencies and others.” One voice, however, seemed to be oddly missing: the average commuter who drives a car. I emailed a DC resident and asked what he thought of driverless cars. He said:

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Over Easy: Rogue Group to Clean Up Crime Labs, DUID Laws

4:05 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

A group in far Western Kentucky calling itself ‘Nobody Talks, Everybody Walks,’ neither drinks nor uses drugs but is nonetheless fed up with Fourth Amendment violation no-suspicion vehicle stops and DUI arrests and crime lab corruption, and has a solid plan to be consistent with the Commonwealth’s goal, which is, after all, to keep everybody honest.

The group members all have the cleanest blood you could possibly imagine, and the plan is to generate guaranteed fucked up incomprehensible unreasonable profile traffic ‘DUI’ stops by having 1000 cars with out-of-state plates travel to Kentucky, from California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado, driving the set speed limits and obeying all traffic laws. When stopped invariably by the McCracken County Sheriff’s deputies, drivers will hand over license, current insurance and registration, and then politely and firmly demand on the spot chemical blood test presumptive screening and quantification of: 6000 known drugs.

Each person will carry Physicians Desk References (PDRs), because it is simpler to hand the arresting officer one of those and say, “I would like quantification, please, for everything in here. Basically what I am looking for here officer is, a yellow pages book of zeros, for jury trial. And you know, presumptive screens are unreliable.”

The current rogue group will feature an overdone, over-acted, west coast hippie theme that the deputies will be helpless facing. The ‘good old boy’ deputies will be pulling law-abiding, not-from-here hippie citizens over nonstop 24/7. These sheriffs just know that the people they are stopping are stoners, based on the license plates alone. Dreadlocks. Animal print pants, rolled up pants, and thongs. There will be a Lamborghini Veneno in silver with red trim and California tags, driving the 35 MPH speed limit up and down the back roads. Tie-die. Head bands. T-shirts, that say things ripped straight from real uniform citations to create probable cause when there isn’t any, like, “There’s nervous and then there’s nervous;” “Failed the HGN;” “watery and bloodshot;” and “nervous and fidgety.” Weed bumper stickers. Roller blades. Backpacks.

Meanwhile all cars in the program have sophisticated data systems recording speed and direction at any given time so the officers can’t tell huge ass lies about the recordings of the bogus stops in court, and the prosecutors can’t testify either, as they usually do, with bolstered B-movie commentary, leading questions and pathological lies. There is working audio visual inside the car and out, of course, and this is special: A rolling FBI crime Lab van on scene with redundant equipment, including capability to draw blood before the officer spikes your second sample. The pre-stop sample will be drawn from an indwelling central line. The after-stop sample will go to a CLIA-regulated clinical independent lab.

The group will stop state police lab analysts from coming into court and speculating about little green men on the lawn or the moon being made of green cheese, or anything beyond the scope of their expertise, especially if it involves the clinical effects of commonly prescribed drugs that they claim they have never seen before and cannot find with a goddamn map.

The Golden Era of field sobriety testing will end. No field sobriety tests whatsoever, absolutely no urine under any circumstances at all. In its stead, quantitative blood analysis for everything under the sun. The days of guilty pleas are over. There will be jury trials for everything imaginable: failing to dim headlights, driving straight with a blinking turn signal, failing to make eye contact with an officer as he passes, and driving a vehicle while seated behind the wheel. The fake juror group that consisted of friends of the Commonwealth, friends of the sheriff and friends of the public defender will need to find work elsewhere. There will be continuances to get the chain of evidence, the bench notes, ISO-9000 compliance quality assurance documents, official court reporter transcripts, official recordings, laboratory equipment calibration papers and proof of education documents.

The current group of DFHs (dirty fucking hippies) heading out to Kentucky to obey the law and get pulled over for no reasonable suspicion DUI includes a group of Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL/NASA) workers with PhDs in Physics from Caltech who designed their own badass interior trunk of their state-of-the-art car to basically rove McCracken County like that thing on Mars. The project director says, “They’ll cull all the data from the 911 tower and every cop car in the county and every nonworking body mike and dash-cam video recorder before you can say lose the exculpatory evidence.”
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Over Easy: Senate investigation of CIA’s use of torture provokes constitutional crisis

6:14 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

by Masoninblue

Official Congressional Portrait of Dianne Feinstein

Feinstein: Suddenly angry about torture.

Senator Diane Feinstein (D), Chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, excoriated the CIA earlier today for withholding information from her committee and spying on its investigation into allegations that CIA officials tortured suspected terrorists after 9/11 in violation of federal laws.

Her committee is responsible for monitoring the government’s intelligence community, including the CIA. In turn it’s required to keep the committee informed about its activities. To that end the CIA supplied senate staff investigators with 6.2 million documents loaded onto several computers at a secure site off CIA property.

Based on a review of those records, the committee produced a 6,300 page report, which has not been declassified.

Senator Feinstein said today that the committee investigators discovered that the CIA leadership seriously misled the committee about its activities. Instead, the interrogators used brutal methods, including waterboarding, that constitute torture and they lied about it afterward while falsely claimed that their brutal methods produced useful intelligence.

She said that, although the CIA disputed some of the findings in the committee report, the CIA Inspector General conducted his own review and reached similar conclusions.

Drafts of that internal review were included in the documents provided to the committee alerting them to its existence.

How that happened is unknown, but committee staff subsequently noticed that those drafts mysteriously disappeared from the database and that led to Senator Feinstein’s accusation today that the CIA was spying on the committee’s investigation.

Meanwhile, general counsel for the CIA has accused senate staffers of hacking into agency computers and stealing classified documents.

Senator Feinstein has asked the Justice Department to conduct a criminal investigation of the CIA and she also has asked President Obama to declassify and publish her committee’s report as well as the inspector general’s report “to ensure that an un-american, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted.”


The New York Times Editorial Board’s OpEd, The CIA Torture Cover-up

Corn, D., The Senate-CIA Blowup Threatens a Constitutional Crisis (Mother Jones Magazine)

The Washington Post, Intrigue at the top: CIA, Senate feud goes public

note- sorry this is late!

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Over Easy: Massachusetts OIG concludes Annie Dookhan acted alone

4:49 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Annie Dookhan is back in the news today. She is the former laboratory technician at the Hinton State Drug Laboratory in Boston, MA who pled guilty last summer to multiple felonies, including tampering with evidence, perjury, obstruction of justice and falsely claiming that she had a masters degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts.

Graduated cylinders with colored liquid inside

Fake chemist Anne Dookhan is back in the news.

She admitted in court during her guilty plea that she had falsely claimed in many cases since she started working at the lab in 2003, that she had detected the presence of particular controlled substances in drug exhibits by using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GCMS), which has been the universally accepted methodology used in crime laboratories since the 1970s. Instead, she had based her opinions on her own visual examination of the drug exhibits, which is an unreliable and unacceptable method. Her excuse was GCMS takes too much time.

The court sentenced Dookhan to prison for a term of 3 to 5 years. She will be subject to supervision for a 2 year period after she is released from prison.

I believe this sentence is absurd because it fails to take into account her violation of the public trust and the havoc that she caused to the defendants and their families in the cases that she handled .

CNN reported in November that officials in Governor Deval Patrick’s administration were concerned that more than 40,000 defendants might have been affected by the scandal. Governor Patrick shut down the lab and ordered Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley to commence an investigation to review all of the cases processed by the lab since 2003 to determine (1) whether other laboratory analysts also faked their results and (2) how many defendants were wrongfully convicted.

CNN is reporting today that the Office of the Inspector General has concluded Dookhan acted alone. The OIG report states,

Dookhan was the sole bad actor at the Drug Lab. Though many of the chemists worked alongside Dookhan for years, the OIG (Office of the Inspector General) found no evidence that any other chemist at the Drug Lab committed any malfeasance with respect to testing evidence or knowingly aided Dookhan in committing her malfeasance.


The [lab] directors were ill-suited to oversee a forensic drug lab, provided almost no supervision, were habitually unresponsive to chemists’ complaints and suspicions, and severely downplayed Dookhan’s major breach in chain-of-custody protocol upon discovering it.


‘John Auerbach [the former Department of Public Health Commissioner who resigned when the scandal broke] and his staff failed to respond appropriately to the report of Dookhan’s breach of protocol’ and ‘the investigation DPH conducted was far too narrow.’


all samples in which Dookhan was the primary chemist should be treated as suspect and be subject to careful review.

The Inspector General’s Office will be supervising the retesting of all samples assigned to Dookhan, plus 2,000 additional samples in which other tests were conducted, but the results were not reported.

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Over Easy: The Oil Train Boom. Literally.

4:56 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Westbound oil train, Essex MT

Image by Roy Luck, Creative Commons, flickr: Westbound oil train, Essex MT

The ‘shale revolution’ is here, along with an astonishing increase in rail carloads of crude oil in transport to refineries. In 2009, 9500 carloads of crude oil originated on US Class I Railroads. In 2013, that number increased, to an estimated 400,000 carloads.

In rail transport, the U.S. DOT-111 tank car, also known as the CTC-111A in Canada, is a type of non-pressure tank car in common use in North America. Up to 80% of the Canadian fleet, and 69% of U.S. rail tank cars are DOT-111 type. Hydraulic fracturing of new wells in the shale oil fields in the interior of North America has rapidly increased the use of DOT-111 cars to transport crude oil to existing refineries along the coasts. BNSF plans to buy 5,000 next-generation tank cars for transporting crude oil.

On July 6, 2013, an unattended 74-car freight train carrying Bakken formation crude oil in Lac-Mégantic derailed and ran away , resulting in the fire and explosion of multiple tank cars. Lac-Mégantic is located in the Eastern Townships of the Canadian province of Quebec. Forty-two people were confirmed dead with 5 more missing and presumed dead. People were seated in a bar at 1 AM, enjoying good company when suddenly faced with a runaway exploding train. More than 30 buildings in the town’s center, roughly half of the downtown area, were destroyed.

In November 2013, in Aliceville, Pickens County, Alabama, a Genesee & Wyoming company was the carrier for a 90-car train, of which 20 derailed and exploded. The train originated in Amory, Mississippi and was scheduled for a pipeline terminal in Walnut Hill, Florida that is owned by Genesis Energy. The final destination for the shipment was to have been the Shell Oil refinery in Mobile, Alabama. The accident happened in a depopulated wetlands area. The Institute for Southern Studies reports cleanup for the Alabama oil train wreck was met with official neglect.

On December 30, 2013, an oil train explosion occurred in Casselton, North Dakota causing the town to be evacuated. The BNSF train was more than 100 cars and 1.6km long, of which at least 10 cars were destroyed. Reports were that another train carrying grain derailed first, causing the adjacent Bakken formation cars to derail. Three days later, the USDOT PHMSA wrote that “Recent derailments and resulting fires indicate that the type of crude oil being transported from the Bakken region may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil. Casselton mayor Ed McConnell, acknowledging that the town “dodged a bullet”, publicly called on the federal government to review the dangers and urged lawmakers to consider pipelines as a safer option.

On January 16, 2014, the US Department of Transportation (DOT), the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the American Petroleum Institute (API), and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) met, for a Call to Action on Rail Safety Meeting. On January 22, the US Secretary of Transportation followed up with a letter to attendees, sharing an apparent epiphany that massively understated the obvious:

It is up to all of us to ensure that the crude oil, whether from North Dakota or elsewhere, is transported safely and securely with no adverse impact to Americans or their property.

While the American Association of Railroads points out that any spill via rail, no matter how miniscule, must be reported, it is notable that oil trains spilled more crude last year than in the previous 38 years combined. The AAR is quick to point out that rail transport is actually safer than pipeline transport:

Based on U.S. DOT data, the crude oil “spill rate” for railroads from 2002-2012 was an estimated 2.2 gallons per million ton-miles, compared with an estimated 6.3 for pipelines.

Not surprisingly, pipeline supporters are using the rail mishaps to sway support to pipeline transport (namely Keystone XL), and rail transport supporters argue the reverse, citing hundreds of unreported pipeline spills in North Dakota, as well as reported ones, like the Tesoro 825,200 gallon fracked oil spill in North Dakota.

Yesterday, February 25, federal regulators say “they’ve issued an emergency order requiring tests of crude oil before shipment by rail in response to a string of train explosions and fires since last summer. The Federal Railroad Administration said Tuesday it also is prohibiting shipping oil using the least-protective packing requirements.”

Are the regulating agencies interested in doing anything meaningful, or are they hostages to industry, getting together every once in a while, to issue a proclamation about something, giving the appearance of action?


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