Four Years After Lac Megantic
Four Years After Lac Megantic
Thursday August 03, 2017

Trains still roll through the very center of Lac Megantic, the Quebec town where a runaway oil train derailed and exploded in 2013, killing 47 immediately and leaving devastation and depression that would claim several more lives in the years that followed. Four years later, federal responses to oil train safety issues in both Canada in the US have been deeply disappointing, with the exception of Canada’s rapid phase-out of the dangerous DOT 111 tank car.

In Plainfield, Illinois, a derailment just a few days before the 4 year anniversary underscored how little has changed--and in the case of oil trains getting longer, conditions are getting worse… 

Away from Washington DC and Ottawa, however, local action (#climateislocal) has been a game changer in stopping the expansion of the oil train industry. As federal efforts at oil train safety continue to fail, local communities fighting back have stopped more than 20 new oil train proposals in the last 4 years, keeping increasing numbers of dangerous oil trains off the tracks--even though large volumes of oil still move by rail. And communities aren’t just fighting new terminals; as July 2017 actions show, local resistance is pushing on air emissions concerns, routing around population centers and sensitive waterways, and minimum crew sizes.

In Lac Megantic, efforts to reroute the trains are gaining momentum even as a train with tank cars rolled through town at the exact moment of the derailment four years ago.

In Quebec more broadly, resistance to the proposed Belledune terminal, led by Coule Pas Chez Nous, has kept increasing numbers of oil trains off the tracks, with unified opposition to oil trains, pipelines, and supertankers.

In New Jersey, residents including Ramapough Lenape Chief Perry protested oil trains, pipelines, and barges, all while Governor Christie vetoed a bill that would inform first responders about oil train shipments--an absolutely minimal and critical safety standard. 

In Albany, New York, Ezra Prentice Homes has seen the installation of a permanent real-time air quality monitors, caused largely by the ongoing presence of oil trains at the Global Partners facility mere feet away from people’s homes. 

In Mosier, OR, the one year anniversary of the oil train disaster next to the town’s elementary school brought hundreds of people out to protest the continuing oil train traffic through the Columbia River Gorge. Residents remember that a year ago only luck and a windless day prevented the school and the town from being destroyed. 

In Oregon, a state bill on oil train safety was killed when legislators were “embarrassed” by RRs’ successful efforts to pack it with secrecy language. In an ironic twist, the final vote that killed the bill in committee was taken on July 6th, the very anniversary of the Lac Megantic disaster. 

In Idaho, active resistance to oil trains and other fossil fuel infrastructure (coal trains, megaloads, and more) continues to feature direct action that disrupts fossil fuel movement. 

In Baltimore, elected official toured the blast zone with local activists worried about oil trains, incinerator pollution, and environmental justice. The City Council is anticipating a new bill this year to protect Baltimore, and are leveraging action to protect residents from dirty fossil fuels into support for clean energy jobs. And oil train action continues at local art events, organizing residents to support council action.

In Spokane, WA, voters have pushed forward an effort to levy fees on oil tank car owners shipping volatile oils, and coal shippers who refuse to cover coal cars. The measure will be on the ballot this coming November. 

And finally, in Whatcom County, WA, the county government is continuing the systematic process to block crude oil export through the community. In July a study was commissioned to determine the extent of the local land use powers that could be used to permanently protect the community (a temporary moratorium is already in place) from the threat of crude oil trains and other unrefined fossil fuel export.