Residents secure moratorium on ethanol trains

August 14, 2014

Residents meeting with Governor Patrick

In response to resident organizing to prevent the transportation of ethanol by train through Greater Boston, Governor Deval Patrick included language in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget which guarantees ethanol trains will not be allowed in the Boston area through at least January 2017. The approval of the ethanol legislation, which was attached to the budget, cemented a significant victory for residents of Chelsea, East Boston and Revere led by the Chelsea Creek Action Group and supported by our Environmental Justice Legal Services (EJLS).

The law prohibits the Department of Environmental Protection from issuing an environmental license between now and January 1, 2017 for the development of railroad lines or facilities in Cambridge, Chelsea, Revere, Everett, Somerville, East Boston or the Chelsea Creek port area that connect to ethanol storage and blending facilities.

“I’d like to thank the foot soldiers for taking time out of their lives to help make our communities safer places to live,” said East Boston resident Anjie Preston. “With the help of local politicians and the Governor, we’ve successfully staved off bomb trains.”

The bill’s passage into law caps a three-year struggle [pdf] to prevent Global Petroleum (GP) from modifying its current facilities on the Chelsea Creek to transport ethanol by train instead of barges, the current delivery method. The company’s plan would have routed trains carrying up to three million gallons of ethanol through more than 90 Massachusetts cities and towns. Last summer, we won an immense victory when GP withdrew their proposal, citing the tenacity of residents organizing against the project. In the past year, residents have continued to press on, refusing to rest until densely populated Greater Boston communities were safe from the threat of explosive trains.

Residents meeting with Speaker of the House Robert Deleo

Ethanol is highly flammable, burning hotter than gasoline when ignited. Its fires cannot be extinguished by water, instead, emergency response requires large quantities of foam by specially-trained firefighters. Alarmingly, our research has found more than 37 ethanol train accidents in the U.S. between 2008 and 2013. Global Petroleum has a questionable safety record itself, having caused more than 57 petroleum spills in Revere and Chelsea since 1996, an average of one every four months.

The law also requires the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) to produce a report on how state agencies prepare for and respond to accidents related to ethanol transportation by rail. The law directs MEMA to consult with many state and federal agencies including MassDOT, the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Railroad Administration, the United States Department of Transportation and the National Transportation Safety Board.

The law requires the MEMA response plan to include provisions for training fire personnel to handle ethanol fires, an analysis of the amount of alcohol-resistant foam needed to combat an ethanol-related accident, and the vehicles and equipment needed to use the foam effectively. The plan will cover potential evacuation routes and shelter-in-place procedures, methods to communicate with limited English language speakers when accidents occur, and necessary improvements to the transportation, infrastructure and rail facilities used for ethanol transport. Additionally, MEMA must develop a municipal planning guide that cities and towns can use to prepare for and respond to any future ethanol disasters.

While this law is the latest victory in the ethanol campaign, the Chelsea Creek Action Group and EJLS are committed to continuing to ensure that communities remain protected against the threat of future ethanol trains in Greater Boston. Thank you members for your support of this work for safe and healthy communities! For more information on this campaign, email Staci or call (617) 442-3343 x236.