“Corporate greed versus the common good”: Oil-bomb trains aren’t going away


It didn’t get much attention in the American news media, but there was an important anniversary this week. It’s been two years now since the explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where a series of negligent acts led to a runway crude-oil train that hit the center of town on a busy Friday night, killing an astonishing 47 people, many of them inside a packed discotheque.

Not surprisingly, such a horrific accident raised public awareness about the risks that are posed by these so-called “oil bomb” trains. But awareness doesn’t always lead to action — especially not in America in 2015, and not when powerful corporate interests are involved. Much like we’ve seen with the BP oil spill in the Gulf, no high-up railroad executives have been held criminally liable for the Lac-Megantic explosion, despite the series of bad management decisions and negligence that played a critical role in the crash.

More broadly, the industry and government officials have shielded basic information about these trains — when they run, and where — from the general public. The regulations to replace America’s aging fleet of tanker cars, which are far too prone to rupturing, have been criticized by environmentalists as too weak. And efforts to make treat crude oil from North Dakota and make it less flammable have gone nowhere.

To mark the anniversary of the Quebec disaster on Monday, environmental activists there and in a number of American communities took to the streets, or the tracks, in protest:

“It’s corporate greed versus the common good, whether it’s rail safety or climate change.” Those were the words of Lowen Berman, a Portland activist involved in a blockade of oil train tracks to mark the second anniversary of the Lac-Megantic oil train disaster. Berman and 60 other activists protested in Portland today as part of a national Oil Train Week of Protests led by 350.org and ForestEthics.

Portland’s Climate Action Coalition sponsored the blockade at Arc Logistics for a memorial service on the two-year anniversary of the oil train derailment that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

While activists in Portland were protesting against the danger of bomb trains on the anniversary of the disaster in Lac-Megantic, activists in Lac-Megantic were also marching. “Emotions and politics are tied together in this, unfortunately,” Jonathan Santerre, an activist and founder of the Carré bleu Lac-Mégantic citizens’ group told the Montreal Gazette. “It’s shocking that after everything that happened, people’s lives still come second to money.”

Santerre has a point. As detailed on DeSmogBlog, the events in Lac-Megantic can be directly attributed to corporate cost cutting. In Portland, the activists were blockading tracks where oil trains travel weekly through North Portland. The Climate Action Coalition is calling for an end to fossil fuel development and an immediate transition to a renewable energy.

That’s definitely the right call. As long as America and other industrialized nations continue to rely primarily on fossil fuels, there will continue to be Lac-Megantic-type accidents. It’s now being reported that the Pacific Northwest — a key gateway to the Asian market — could see as many as 100 mile-long trains every week, as production facilities continue to grow. Similar numbers are sent to the East Coast, with many of the oil trains crossing a bridge in the heart of Philadelphia that was built during the first term of President Grover Cleveland, in 1886. Two years since Lac-Megantic, you could say that we’ve learned a lot about oil trains. Or, you could also say that we’ve learned nothing.

Read more about protests surrounding the Lac-Megantic disaster from the Desmog Blog: http://www.desmogblog.com/2015/07/06/blocking-bomb-trains-nationwide-protests-lac-megantic-anniversary

You can read more facts about what’s wrong with crude-oil trains in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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