“The requested special permit presents unique and substantial risk to the safety of the public and the environment,” reads a letter sent by Reps. DeFazio and Malinowski.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., sent a letter Friday to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) requesting the agency extend the public comment period for at least an additional 30 days on the special permit it is considering that would allow the movement of liquefied natural gas by rail in Florida.
The Department of Transportation currently has an open public comment period on the proposed special permit for Energy Transport Solutions to move LNG by rail tank car through the Florida coast. The comment period is set to close July 8, which the lawmakers argued was not enough time for the public or Congress to become fully informed of where and how the company intends to transport LNG and how first responders along the route could respond to a leak or explosion.
“The requested special permit presents unique and substantial risk to the safety of the public and the environment,” the letter reads. “Should even one rail tank car get punctured, the results could be catastrophic. … If Energy Transport Solutions intends to run 100-plus rail cars on the Florida East Coast Railway, PMHSA would be placing large swaths of people and critical infrastructure (hospitals, schools, highways and even the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort) in jeopardy.”
Deficiencies in public filing “suggest that the special permit was arbitrarily rushed in a way that shortchanged PHMSA’s normal review procedures” and certain statements made by the agency “suggest that the statute and regulations requiring analysis and data to justify an equivalent level of safety have not been complied with,” DeFazio and Malinowski said in the letter.
The letter also argued the special permit has not taken any operating conditions that could be put in place to ensure its safety. The Federal Railroad Administration has authorized the transportation of LNG by rail in intermodal containers “in rare instances,” but the agency required the approved operators to abide by speed restrictions, route restrictions, quantity limitations, mandatory LNG-specific training for the crew and first responders along the rail route and FRA notification and reporting.
“None of these are specified in the special permit, despite the volume of LNG contemplated for transportation being significantly greater,” the lawmakers said in the letter.
“Introducing this level of risk to the rail network, the public and the environment is not typically achieved through special permit,” the letter concludes. “Given the serious risks at play, it is critical that PHMSA be transparent and direct in this process and fully consider the risks they are posing by rushing this special permit when so many questions and concerns remain unaddressed.”
Earlier in the week, the House of Representatives approved DeFazio’s amendment to H.R. 3055 that would prohibit the transportation secretary from finalizing a rulemaking and issuing a special permit that would allow LNG to be transported by tank cars.
The amendment, adopted by a 221-to-192 vote, was in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order on April 10 that called for LNG to be moved throughout the U.S. on rail tank cars within 13 months. The PHMSA on June 6 “moved ahead with a plan to authorize six trains, of 100 or more rail tank cars, to move LNG for export through densely populated areas, according to a press release.
“This plan is beyond absurd. Should even one tank car get punctured, the results could be devastating,” DeFazio said in the release. “My amendment blocks this brazen attempt by the administration. I urge the Senate to follow suit and stop a massive catastrophe before it’s too late.”