Trump administration repeals Obama rule for oil tanker trains

The U.S. Department of Transportation under the Trump administration has moved to repeal the Obama-era rule mandating safety upgrades for oil tanker trains.

The original rule was designed to reduce the possibility of derailments, explosions and spills from trains such as those that carry crude oil through Oklahoma. Fortunately, Oklahoma has not had deadly accidents involving the tankers but there have been accidents.

The rule was created in 2015 after a series of deadly train accidents involving oil tankers. The rule required crude oil rail cars to be equipped with electric pneumatic brakes by the middle of the next decade.

But the Government Accounting Office completed a study that found complying with the electronically controlled brake rule would actually cost more than the benefits. The repeal is set to take effect 90 days from this week.

But the repeal also angered environmentalists who contend it will increase the changes of deadly and destructive accidents.

“This commonsense rule was put in place in response to a series of deadly accidents and this shameless decision to repeal it will mean more workers and communities are put at  risk,” said Kelly Martin with the Sierra Club. Martin is the campaign director for the Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels.

Environmentalists contend the repeal was another move by the Trump administration to appease polluters at the expense of the public.

“Apparently there’s no limit to the lengths the Trump administration will go,” Martin said, “to prioritize the desires of polluting industries over the health and safety of the American people.”

The repeal was initially proposed in December of 2017, but finalized by the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) on Monday. PHMSA claimed that a congressionally-mandated analysis concluded “that the expected costs of requiring ECP brakes would be significantly higher than the expected benefits of the requirement.” The change does not prevent railroads from using ECP brakes but the safety upgrade is no longer mandated.


“About 20 derailments of trains carrying oil and ethanol that have led to spills, fires, and, in some cases, evacuations have occurred since 2010 in the U.S. and Canada,” according to Fortune.

Perhaps of the most high-profile derailment in recent years occurred in Quebec in 2013. A train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded, destroying the small downtown of Lac-Mégantic and killing 47 people. Five years after the tragedy, CBC reported in July, rail safety advocates say the Canadian government also has not done enough to prevent future disasters.