Baltimore City Council Moves Forward with Bill to Protect City from Dangerous Crude Oil Shipments
The Baltimore City Council voted 14-1 to advance the Crude Oil Terminal Prohibition to protect Baltimoreans from dangerous crude oil shipments.
The bill moves to a final vote on March 12.
BALTIMORE — The Baltimore City Council voted tonight to advance a bill to ban new or expanded crude oil terminals in the city. New or expanded crude oil terminals would bring more trains carrying crude oil through Baltimore neighborhoods, increasing the likelihood of a catastrophic explosion and enabling expanded oil drilling.
“A few years ago, the oil market shifted, drilling in the Bakken region of North Dakota soared, crude-by-rail shipments skyrocketed across the country, and an oil company proposed to create a new terminal for crude oil here in Baltimore. That would have posed real danger to neighborhoods near rail lines, not to mention to our air and water” said Jennifer Kunze of Clean Water Action. “The people of this city do not deserve to live in fear that a new terminal will be built that draws crude oil trains through their neighborhoods, exposing them to the risk of explosions, fires, or toxic spills.”
The legislation, titled the “Crude Oil Terminal Prohibition” has eleven co-sponsors, with Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke and Councilman Ed Reisinger the primary proponents. The bill will go to a final vote on March 12.
“Not only will this bill limit the potential for an increase in dangerous crude-by-rail transit in Baltimore, it will also protect our city from the larger impacts of climate change,” said Taylor Smith-Hams of CCAN Action Fund. “Our climate cannot afford any new crude oil terminals, and this bill is a necessary step for our elected officials to uphold their commitments on climate action.”
The bill was recommended favorably in a 6-1 vote by the Land Use & Transportation Committee on Wednesday, February 21st. During that hearing, an amendment was added to clarify the definition of “crude oil,” which the City Law Department had flagged in its report on the bill prior to the hearing as too vague.
The Law Department had also raised questions in its report about a potential violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. An attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project submitted comments providing additional facts and arguing that, given all of the information, a court would likely uphold the law in an Equal Protection challenge. The City Council’s General Counsel reviewed both sets of comments and stated at the hearing that she had concluded that the environmental advocates’ Equal Protection arguments were sound.
“This bill is a common sense step to protect the communities of Baltimore most at risk from transport of crude oil and to reduce the likelihood of an oil spill that would affect Baltimore Harbor,” said Leah Kelly, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project. “We don’t need more of these potentially hazardous crude oil shipment facilities in the city.”
By preventing an expansion of crude oil terminals, Baltimore City can limit the demand for dangerous crude oil trains. The bill would not prohibit all crude oil by rail shipments through the city, but would bar any approvals for new crude oil terminals (beyond two that already exist in Baltimore). A third was proposed in the city four years ago, but the proposal was withdrawn when challenged by environmental groups and local communities.
Background: Transport of crude oil by rail skyrocketed in the midst of the fracking boom in the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota and in tar sands extraction in Canada, and a string of derailments has followed. The worst incident occurred when a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in 2013, killing 47 people and leveling the town.
165,000 Baltimoreans live in the crude oil train “blast zone” – the area that could be directly impacted if a train were to derail and explode in the city. There have been many close calls with freight trains and rail infrastructure in in Baltimore, including the 2001 and 2016 derailments inside the Howard Street Tunnel and the 26th collapse onto the CSX tracks below in 2014.
Portland, OR, Vancouver, WA, and South Portland, ME have used their zoning codes to guard against crude oil facilities. This bill is an opportunity for Baltimore to be a leader on the East Coast and join the ranks of cities taking serious climate action.
Concerned residents and local advocates are calling on members of the Baltimore City Council to pass the Crude Oil Terminal Prohibition to protect Baltimoreans from this unnecessary public health and safety risk and to be a leader on local climate action.