Chair of House committee rips agency for allowing LNG move by rail

Special permit issued as rulemaking process continues for liquefied natural gas movements
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WASHINGTON — While the federal government gathers input on a proposal to allow liquefied natural gas to be moved in tank cars, one company has gotten a special permit to do just that.

On Dec. 5, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration granted a special permit to Energy Transport Solutions LLC to move LNG in DOT-113 tank cars from Wyalusing, Pa., and Gibbstown, N.J. The announcement comes as PHMSA and the Federal Railroad Administration are seeking public comment on a proposal that would allow the movement of LNG by rail across the country [See: “DOT advances proposal to allow movement of liquefied natural gas in tank cars,” Trains News Wire, Oct. 21, 2019].

One lawmaker — Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. — was quick to blast the PHMSA for issuing the permit “despite repeated objections from members of Congress and safety and environmental groups,” according to a press release.

“This reckless move by the Administration puts communities in harm’s way,” DeFazio says. “For months I have been sounding the alarm on this dangerous plan. Not only has PHMSA failed to take the proper steps of testing, analyzing or reviewing this unprecedented plan, it failed to provide Congress and the public the opportunity to consider whether the permit’s operating conditions sufficiently address the potential safety implications — an opportunity that’s required by law.”

In June, the House of Representatives passed an amendment trying to prohibit the U.S. Department of Transportation from issuing permits to move LNG by rail. The amendment was in response to an executive order that directed the Secretary of Transportation to finalize a rule within 13 months that would “treat LNG the same as other cryogenic liquids and permit LNG to be transported in approved rail cars.”

In October, PHMSA and FRA began to seek public comment on the proposal to move LNG in DOT-113 tank cars. Liquified natural gas can currently move by truck, or by rail only in a portable tank, with approval by the FRA. The public has until Dec. 23 to submit comments.

In a statement to Trains News Wire, a representative for PHMSA defended the agency’s decision to issue a special permit, noting that it had followed all the rules in doing so. According to federal officials, Energy Transport Solutions had applied for the permit in August 2017 and since then PHMSA has reviewed thousands of public comments. The representative says the shipments are expected to begin in the next six to 12 months. Before the shipments can begin, first responders along the route must be trained for how to handle an incident involving LNG.

“PHMSA issues special permits which allow variances from existing hazardous materials regulations while maintaining an equivalent level of safety,” the representative says.

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