U.S. Department of Transportation Misses Deadline to Suspend Dangerous Trump-Era LNG-by-Rail Rule

Buttigieg urged to act as deadline is missed for the third time

WASHINGTON, D.C. — According to a court filing, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is set to miss today’s deadline to suspend a Trump-era regulation that allows liquefied natural gas (LNG) to be transported by rail nationwide. This will be the third time that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, an agency within DOT, has missed this deadline. The initial suspension of the LNG-by-rail rule was expected in June 2022, then December 2022, and now March 13, 2023. Along with missing its March 13th deadline to suspend the LNG-by-rail rule, DOT has also indicated in the court filing that it will not make its own March 20th deadline to propose a replacement regulation.

The current rule allows transport of LNG-by-rail across the nation, including for a New Fortress Energy proposal to ship LNG-by-rail from Wyalusing, PA, nearly 200 miles south to an export terminal in Gibbstown, NJ. If the project is approved, it would result in two 100-car trains of LNG moving through dozens of communities, including the City of Philadelphia, daily. The shipment of LNG-by-rail is highly hazardous because a single accident could result in flammable leaks, choking vapor clouds, explosions, and uncontrollable fires. Just 22 train cars of liquefied natural gas hold the equivalent energy of the Hiroshima bomb.

Communities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have demanded an immediate return to a ban on LNG-by-rail. Community members in Philadelphia and Camden rallied last week to call for  action. Seven members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation have urged DOT to suspend the LNG-by-rail rule. Eighteen New Jersey municipalities, eleven Pennsylvania local governments, and two Delaware municipalities have passed resolutions against LNG-by-rail. And a petition for a ban, which was drafted by a coalition of environmental organizations including Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Berks Gas Truth, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Clean Water Action, and Food & Water Watch, has already garnered 10,000 signatures.

The following are quotes from organizations reacting to the DOT’s missed deadline:

"Secretary Buttigieg can’t just keep kicking the can down the road. Especially after the tragic disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, there is no excuse for Buttigieg to not suspend the LNG-by-rail rule immediately. If this rule persists, it will endanger our communities and our climate," said Sahana Rao, staff attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). "The Gibbstown LNG project puts the Pennsylvania and New Jersey communities along its transport routes at risk, and it must be stopped.”

“It is far too dangerous to allow liquefied natural gas to be transported by trains through our communities, as acknowledged by DOT itself. It defies logic that Secretary Buttigieg would let the Trump Administration’s deregulation of this hazardous, flammable and explosive cargo stand. We call for the ban on all LNG transport by rail to be immediately reinstated to protect the public and our environment,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

B. Arrindell, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability’s director added, “It’s been shown that the risks are real - the more transport, the more crashes, spills, impacts on communities and the environment. From a cold economic perspective, our  health and global health is worth much more than whatever projected corporate profits are being advertised. All LNG by rail must be banned.”

“Transporting liquified fracked gas to the Gibbstown export terminal would further overburden communities that already bear the brunt of Environmental Injustice. This project would expose thousands of South Jersey residents to the fatal and lasting risks of explosive liquified natural gas every day and exacerbate already worsening effects of climate change. In fact, over eighteen NJ municipalities and thousands of residents have sent a clear message that they do not want this substance coming through their communities. President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg, when will you listen to your constituents?” said Noa Gordon-Guterman, Stop Fracked Gas Exports Organizer with Food and Water Watch.

"The  Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is again missing deadlines to suspend a regulation that allows liquefied natural gas (LNG) to be transported by rail nationwide. This is outrageous," said Wes Gillingham, Associate Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper. "LNG was not allowed in the past to be transported by rail because it is way too dangerous. Not only is it possibly deadly to communities along the route, it will fuel increased drilling, pipeline construction, methane leaks, water contamination, air emissions and severe damage to our atmosphere and the communities over the Marcellus shale. Are we as Americans so greedy that we are willing to sacrifice Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Allentown, the outskirts of Philadelphia, and countless other towns for industry profits? Suspend this rule today, Secretary Buttigieg, and replace this regulation with something that protects our communities.”

"Continuing to permit rail transport for LNG expands gas for export markets, further increases the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, increases the chances of catastrophic railway accidents, and drives up gas prices domestically. We have seen the poison that an accident can cause to communities bordering the railway route - often communities most impacted by pollution. By increasing and expanding LNG transport, it directly conflicts with the Biden Administration’s commitments to environmental justice and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Rather than continuing to pass the buck of responsibility, the administration should suspend the LNG-by-rail rule immediately,” said Patrick Grenter, Director of Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign, Sierra Club.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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