But the proposal provoked an intense backlash from a diverse array of prominent public safety officials. Among them were groups representing thousands of mayors, fire chiefs and fire marshals nationwide and even the federal government’s own National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates fatal transportation accidents.
The gas is stored in 30,000-gallon rail tanks at minus 260 degrees to keep it compressed. But if accidentally released during an accident, it would rapidly expand by nearly 600 times as the temperature rises and cause what is known as a “boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion” that if ignited could not be quickly extinguished, potentially resulting in widespread injury or death if it occurs in a populated area, the fire chiefs warned.
“It is nearly certain any accident involving a train consisting of multiple rail cars loaded with L.N.G. will place vast numbers of the public at risk while fully depleting all local emergency response forces,” Harold A. Schaitberger, the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, wrote in a letter opposing the proposal.
The Transportation Department still adopted the rule and rejected proposed speed limits for the trains, generating a petition for a court review by 14 states and the District of Columbia.
“Studies on how to safely transport liquefied natural gas by rail are still ongoing, and this administration has rushed to implement a rule that will needlessly endanger people’s lives and threaten our environment,” Michigan’s attorney general, Dana Nessel, said.
Even while the challenge is underway, the Transportation Department has moved to enact another rule easing safety standards, in this case removing a requirement intended to limit the number of hours truck drivers are allowed behind the wheel and to mandate rest periods.
Certain drivers who carry agricultural products would now be exempt from this federal mandate in a standard that would again be adopted as an “interim final rule,” meaning it would be put in place before any public comment is accepted, under the plan announced by the agency.