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Trenton’s Railroad and Pipe Dreams

The paramount risk of oil and gas infrastructure is climate change

We don’t have time to fool around. We have to get militant, very fast.

Scientists warn that we must leave at least 80% of currently known fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic climate chaos and the end of agricultural and industrial civilization as we know it.

NJ’s Global Warming Response Act sets a State goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the year 2050.

To meet those kind of existential threats will require radical and rapid change in our energy infrastructure.

It will require huge economic dislocations – basically the end of the fossil fuel industry – and dramatic changes in lifestyle and a “revolution in values”, something Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for back in 1967 in his famous Riverside Church speech “A Time to break silence” .

[Update 6/18/15: In virtually identical language, today the NY Times reports:

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Thursday called for a radical transformation of politics, economics and individual lifestyles to confront environmental degradation and climate change, as his much-awaited papal encyclical blended a biting critique of consumerism and irresponsible development with a plea for swift and unified global action. ~~~ end update]

Last week, Chris Hedges, a writer who lives right here in Princeton, spoke in Boston about the kind of changes, what he calls “rebellion”, that will be required (hit this link to watch the video of that talk)

We cannot resist effectively unless we understand how corporate power works and the nature of inverted totalitarianism.

Otherwise, we are responding to an illusion – a belief that appealing to [US Senators] Markey or Elizabeth Warren is going to work.

We don’t have any time left, as anyone who’s been reading climate change reports knows.

It is becoming increasingly terrifying. […]

We have surrendered power to these corporate forces that seek to profit on the death throes of the planet.

Our first job, for those of us who care about creating a sustainable future, recovering our democracy, and fostering the common good is  close study of power itself.

And if we don’t make that close study, then we are going inevitably to funnel energy into a dead political system. […]  a Van Jones role of funneling all of this hope, all of this passion, all of this work, and a significant amount of money right back into a dead political system.

And we don’t have time for that anymore. We don’t have time to fool around. We have to get militant, very fast.

Hedges went on to suggest that anti-fracking activists get old junk cars, drive to the location of the fracking projects, and abandon them in the road. And to sustain this kind of non-violent civil disobedience every day. Like Mario Savio famously said (watch):

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

But Hedges might just have well have been speaking from the moon – his voice and ideas are ignored in Trenton (and we don’t have anything close to resembling Senators Markey or Warren for the environmental lobbyists to at least attempt to justify the lobbying).

Illusion reigns and there’s no breaking silence there, unless it’s to break wind.

Today was another example, as Democratic legislators were praised by environmentalists for what amount to symbolic gestures on oil pipelines and oil trains.

There were important opportunities to discuss these kind of challenges today in Trenton, during debates on a Senate Resolution opposing the Pilgrim oil pipeline and on a package of bills regulating safety of railroad oil and chemical shipments (see S2858 (Weinberg/Gordon) and S2979 (Weinberg/Sacco) and SCR 165 (Weinberg).

The Senate Resolution opposing the Pilgrim Pipeline did not even mention climate change or the need to meet the emission reduction goals of the Global Warming Response Act or to stop investments in fossil infrastructure.

Substantively, it was a toothless symbolic gesture that can not be enforced.

The oil train package did not even mention climate change or the need to meet the emission reduction goals of the Global Warming Response Act or to stop investments in fossil infrastructure.

Substantively, aside from failures to address core issues, even on the stated narrow objectives, the legislation was weak, at best.

The oil train legislation sought to require new emergency response plans. These plans would be kept secret and would be overseen by the DEP.

The DEP has failed to even express a concern about the rail safety issue, and refused to disclose information.

So why would a routine DEP regulatory bill – with no real mandates, enforcement, or even public disclosure – accomplish anything?

The “emergency response” to a train derailment and fire/explosion of a railcar carrying highly volatile Bakken crude oil is to evacuate the area and let the fire burn out.

The fires and explosions are simply to dangerous to even try to extinguish.

The “emergency response” to  a train derailment that caused an oil or chemical spill in the Oradell Reservoir would be to install booms and shut down the reservoir as a water supply.

The “emergency response” to an oil pipeline break in the NJ Highlands near the Wanaque Reservoir would be pretty much the same.

No real “emergency response” and “cleanup” is feasible. Once the accident occurs, it is too late.

So how is a law that requires the railroad to prepare an emergency response plan anything more than a band aid on a gaping wound?

Just like fracking, these are risk that are too high to regulate, manage, and respond to – the only real solution is to prevent them.

Regulation simply can not work. We need prohibitions.

And the only real prevention strategy is to stop extracting oil and natural gas and shipping it in pipelines, trains and barges.

Senator Weinberg, discussing one of the rail safety bills released today by the Senate Transportation Committee, expressed disappointment and could not understand why CSX railroad opposed her bill to require that bridge inspection reports be submitted to the NJ State Department of Transportation “unless they have something to hide”.


Over two years ago, I explained the flaws in what is effectively privatization of railroad safety at the federal level:

“According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), railroad bridge safety is left up to the railroads! 

FRA said:

The Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandates that all track owners inspect their railroad bridges at least once per calendar year. Prior to the passage of this legislation, railroad bridge inspections were highly encouraged, but not mandatory. The new statute requires track owners to conduct and then submit risk management reports to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). In addition, track owners are required to document their yearly inspections and are also subject to random audits. Owners of structurally deficient railroad bridges can be levied fines of up to $100,000 and information on deficient railroad bridges will be published in the federal registry.

Citizens concerned about the state of railroad bridges in their communities are encouraged to contact the owner of the bridge first. However, the FRA is always available to concerned citizens and can be contacted via email at: RRSWebInquiries@dot.gov 

The system is badly broken, folks.

Like Hedges says, we don’t have time to fool around and “We have to get militant, very fast.”

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