The Biden administration quietly rescinded a Trump-era regulation allowing companies to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) via rail in a victory for environmental groups.
In a federal filing Friday ahead of the holiday weekend, the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) formally suspended the 2020 authorization of LNG transportation in rail tank cars. The rule will remain in effect until either a permanent rule regarding LNG rail tank car transportation is proposed and finalized — a process that may take several months — or June 30, 2025.
“We are encouraged by the decision to suspend the dangerous practice of transporting highly flammable LNG by rail through communities,” said Patrick Grenter, the director of eco group Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign.
“We have seen the destruction that an accident can cause to communities bordering the railway route — often communities most impacted by pollution and we support any step that will keep it from happening again,” he added. “We urge PHMSA to make the only reasonable decision available to them: make the suspension permanent and ban LNG by rail once and for all.”
The Sierra Club and several other environmental organizations, like Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council and Food & Water Watch, have argued that allowing LNG transportation could lead to mass devastation. They have stated LNG is highly flammable and vulnerable to devastating explosions which could destroy communities which railroads cut through.
Democratic lawmakers, led by Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., wrote to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg earlier this year asking for a permanent ban on LNG transportation via rail and pointed to safety risks cited by environmental groups.
According to PHMSA, the rulemaking helps the federal government avoid potential risks to public health and environmental consequences, including “direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions.” The agency stated the rule also provides sufficient time to complete ongoing testing and evaluation efforts regarding LNG rail transportation and allows development of mitigation measures for such transportation.
“This victory can, and must, go deeper,” Matt Smith, a director with Food & Water Watch, said in a statement. “The Biden administration should take action to eliminate the threat of fracked gas bomb trains entirely, and it must do more to stop new fossil fuel projects across the country.”
In June 2020, the Trump administration announced it had finalized the rule green-lighting the rail shipment of LNG. Former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the agency had put new safeguards in place to prevent dangerous accidents.
Shortly after the rule was implemented, a coalition of environmental groups and Democratic-led states sued PHMSA over the rule.
However, the 2020 rule was supported by Republican lawmakers and states, and the rail industry, which said it was committed to freight rail transportation safety.
“The extended hold of the rule for transporting LNG by rail is disappointing,” Railway Supply Institute President Patty Long said Friday. “Transporting LNG has a proven safety record, and with our country continuing to face rising energy prices, we should be incentivizing critical infrastructure that can provide additional capacity to the U.S.”
“We should not have to rely on foreign sources of LNG to meet demand in certain parts of the country,” she continued.
Long also penned a letter to PHMSA in late 2021 in response to a proposal to suspend the LNG rail rule, similarly arguing industry was prepared to safely transport the fossil fuel.
Daniel Schmitt, senior counsel for major freight company CSX, warned at the time that suspension of the 2020 regulations would impose significant cost burdens on the company and could inadvertently impose safety and environmental risks.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said the action late last week was the latest “salvo” in the Biden administration’s war on energy.
“Today, the Biden administration has fired another salvo in its war on American energy by essentially prohibiting the movement of LNG by rail,” Cruz said. “America is a leader in reducing carbon emissions largely because the of the United States’ development and use of natural gas. The energy renaissance we are seeing in this country is producing enormous environmental benefits.”
“LNG by rail would give Americans — particularly those who have limited energy choices because of geography — an affordable and environmentally-responsible option to meet their energy needs,” the Texas Republican added. “By removing this option, the radical environmentalists in the Biden administration have delivered a further setback to American prosperity and national security.”
“This is yet another example of why the Biden administration cannot be trusted to implement pro-domestic energy policies.”