Before its hearing in front of the Land Use & Transportation Committee, advocates held a rally and press conference urging the City Council to pass the Crude Oil Terminal Prohibition to protect Baltimoreans from dangerous crude oil shipments.
Bill will move to full Baltimore City Council on February 26.
BALTIMORE — Today, the Baltimore City Council Land Use & Transportation Committee voted 6-1 to advance a bill to protect Baltimore from crude oil trains. The vote took place just after a large group of Baltimore legislators, residents, and advocates rallied in support of this bill, which would ban new crude oil terminals and reduce the public health and safety threats posed to Baltimoreans by dangerous crude oil trains.
The bill was recommended favorably by the Land Use & Transportation Committee after the rally. It now goes back to the full Council for second reader on Monday, February 26.
During the rally in front of City Hall on Wednesday February 21st, speakers highlighted the Crude Oil Terminal Prohibition as a landmark piece of legislation to protect the public from crude oil shipments and from the broader impacts of climate change. By banning the construction of new crude oil terminals in Baltimore, the bill would help prevent an increase in crude-by-rail shipments in Baltimore and across Maryland.
Councilman Edward Reisinger of Baltimore’s 10th District and bill co-sponsor, said, “Most of my district is within one mile of the tracks that crude oil has been transported on. I don’t want any more crude oil bomb trains putting the neighborhoods in my district at risk.”
Chauna Brocht, a Charles Village resident and parent of two Baltimore City Public School students, said, “My children are two of the 30,000 Baltimore City Public School children who are put at risk every day because they go to school in a blast zone. Our children face so many risks, they shouldn’t also face the risk of an explosive oil train when it is in the City Council’s power to do something about it.”
Valerie Hall, a Mt Winans resident and retired firefighter, said, “As a retired paramedic firefighter of Baltimore City, I know that a crude oil train derailment and explosion would pose a terrible health and safety threat to my community of Mt Winans and our neighbors. South Baltimore communities are surrounded by railroads and we have already seen the difficulties that emergency services have had in responding to incidents – particularly when trains block the roads. A crude oil train explosion would be far too costly in both money and human lives to allow new terminals to be built.”
Fritz Edler, a veteran Locomotive Engineer and wreck investigator, said, “Volatile oil terminals are a substantial new threat to health, safety and good sustainable jobs.”
Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, representative of Baltimore’s District 14 and bill sponsor, said, “In a time of low demand, this legislation freezes in place our current capacity for crude oil storage and transfer. When the next boom comes, this limited capacity will help to protect Baltimore from crude oil train hazards.”
Larry Bannerman, a resident of Turner Station with 38 years of experience in electrical maintenance at substations, said, “I believe the substations and other critical infrastructure in close proximity to rail lines pose a significant hazard that has never been considered by electric utilities. The substation at Westport that powers most high-rise buildings downtown and the natural gas storage and distribution system at Spring gardens in South Baltimore are both in the circle of danger from a crude oil train accident, posing great hazards to people in those areas. We have seen these accidents from around the world. We should put all of our energy into preventing one in Baltimore by stopping new terminals from being constructed, in favor of renewable energy opportunities like offshore wind.”
To date, over fifty religious leaders in Baltimore City have signed onto a letter urging the City Council to support the bill. Rabbi Burg of Beth Am Synagogue, a signatoree of the letter, said, “As a Rabbi serving Reservoir Hill, I take seriously the teaching from my own Jewish tradition’s great medieval scholar Maimonides that ‘if there is any object which could cause mortal danger, one is required to remove it.’ I have come to believe that crude oil train shipments traveling through our neighborhoods are a disaster waiting to happen and pose a mortal danger we are morally obliged to remove.”
During the rally, activists wore red and held a large replica “oil train” that read “Stop Oil Trains,” hand-painted signs, and maps of Baltimore’s oil train “blast zone.”
Background: Transport of crude oil by rail skyrocketed in the midst of the U.S.’s 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 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 and Vancouver, WA have used their zoning codes to guard against crude oil facilities. This bill is an opportunity for Baltimore to be the 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 be a leader on local climate action.