Ethanol Shipments through Population Areas

I have received many expressions of concern about the proposed shipment of ethanol by rail along lines that run through portions of my district. There are several possible routes under consideration. All options run through dense neighborhoods.

Click here to view a study that was made of the safety issues by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

Apparently, there is no regulatory handle available to prevent these rail shipments. State regulatory powers over rail transit are “pre-empted” by federal law. And under federal law, the rail roads merely need to meet applicable regulations — there is no discretionary permit to litigate.

There is one state permit involved related to marine development on a tidelands area. That permit is pending before the state Department of Environmental Protection. I joined with a group of senators on a letter urging that DEP consider the negative safety issues. However, DEP is unlikely to be able to base its permitting decision on considerations outside the marine area.

It may be that our primary strategy should be to assure that, if these trains do in fact come (which is still months or years away), we are as prepared as we can possibly be to respond to any safety concerns.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

10 replies on “Ethanol Shipments through Population Areas”

  1. Dear Senator Brownsberger,

    Thanks for your attention in this important matter. It may be possible to contest the issuance of Global Petroleum’s Chapter 91 license on the grounds that switching ethanol delivery from boat to train is incompatible with the rules governing the Marine District. In effect, if they are no longer using ships to deliver the ethanol, they are no longer engaged in a marine-related use of the site, and, therefore, do not qualify for a license under Chapter 91. This doesn’t directly challenge their right to ship ethanol by trains. Instead, it contests their right to engage in non-marine activities in a designated marine district. Just a thought.

    Seperately, I would also point out that MassDOT’s own report indicates that 77% of Cambridge’s population (plus 92% of Somerville’s) falls within the 1/2-mile evacuation zone associated with the 3 proposed routes. In past ethanol spills, the largest population ever evacuated was 500 people. A spill in Cambridge or Somerville (the two densest cities in the entire U.S.) could require evacuating 50-70,000 people, and that doesn’t even include the surrounding towns of Revere, Chelsea, Boston, and Newton.

    I also thought it was important to point out the need to use Alcohol-Resistant Foam for any potential fire, and that, according to MassDOT’s report, neither Cambridge nor Somerville currently has any of that product onhand.

    Lastly, I think it is important to point out that in addition to multiple biological and pharmaceutical research facilities, an industrial gas distributor, a fuel cell laboratory, a magnet lab, and a decommissioned cyclotron, the Grand Junction railroad also runs within 100 feet of MIT’s 6-megawatt Nuclear Reactor. This reactor operates on highly-enriched uranium, a fuel so deadly that MIT itself says terrorists would be unlikely to steal because it “would cause serious, often debilitating, illness and/or death if anyone were to remove it.” Sounds like a perfect dirty bomb to me, particularly in light of recent events in both Boston (act of terrorism) and Texas (industrial accident).

    Regardless, thans again for your time in this matter.


    Doug Brown
    Cambridge, MA

  2. This afternoon, Senator Brownsberger signed on to co-sponsor the following two budget amendments sponsored by Senator Petruccelli related to ethanol shipments:

    EPS 462

    Fire Safety

    Messrs. Petruccelli and DiDomenico and Ms. Jehlen moved that the bill be amended by inserting the following section:-

    SECTION XX. Notwithstanding any general law or special law, or rule or regulation to the contrary, any entity that stores or blends ethanol shall contract with all municipalities located within a 5 mile radius from the entity for the purposes of promoting public safety and health. The contract shall stipulate that the entity will finance the purchase of all alcohol resistant foam and associated equipment necessary to adequately combat ethanol fires in said municipalities. The contract shall also stipulate that the entity will finance training for all fire department personnel once per year in the best manner to combat ethanol fires in said municipalities, along with the foam necessary for the training. A signed copy of the agreement shall be submitted to the Department of Fire Safety no later than October 1, 2013.

    For the purposes of this section, ethanol shall be defined as any mixture composed of not less than 30% ethanol.

    ENV 200

    Waterway Protection

    Messrs. Petruccelli and DiDomenico and Ms. Jehlen moved that the bill be amended by inserting, after section 145, the following new section:-

    “Section XX. Section 14 of chapter 91 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2010 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting after the word “lands in line 26, the following:

    An ethanol storage or blending facility that stores or blends or is intended to store or blend more than an average of 5,000 gallons of ethanol per day and is located within one mile of a Census block that has a population density of greater than 4,000 people per square mile shall not be granted a license under this chapter. For the purposes of this section, ethanol shall be defined as any mixture composed of not less than 30% ethanol.”

    Anne Johnson Landry
    Committee Counsel and Policy Advisor
    Office of State Senator William N. Brownsberger

  3. Is there no requirement for a corporation to provide the resources to defend against an accident from this shipping strategy?

    This idea seems completely irresponsible.

    Why should the communities of Cambridge, Somerville, Newton, Chelsea, Revere and beyond be forced to increase taxes and infrastructure?

    Why should potentially 100s of thousands of residents and companies be subjected to the inevitable loss of property value the potential increase in insurance rates? (would one’s property or tenants insurance even cover loss related to such a disaster?)

    Why should we be forced to absorb the the very real risk of permanent physical harm and loss of home and business in case of disaster?

    Why should this company be able to impose the impact of very long trains on local traffic, stalling traffic and fouling air quality and imposing noise pollution on the communities along their path?

    All this so one corporation can increase profits? They don’t even have to pay their fair share?

  4. Will,

    I’m assuming the ethanol was being transported as a supply to be mixed with gasoline for E10 and, in the future, E15. If that’s the case, the root cause of this problem is the EPA mandate that ethanol is mixed into fuel at those levels.

    You’re probably aware that the EPA is pushing for E15 and the auto manufacturers are pushing back because many of them haven’t designed the cars for it. As an example, my father just bought a brand new Accord and the owner’s manual specifically says not to use it. I have an older car that I’ve restored and I know E15 isn’t good for that.

    So, what are your thoughts on ethanol in gasoline?

  5. Our ethanol policies are basically a sop to corn growers. Once we can produce ethanol from high cellulose products like grass, ethanol incentives may make sense. It’s a waste to turn high energy foods — high energy content and high energy growing costs — like corn into motor fuel.

  6. I am revisiting this topic in response to a recent inquiry. The language from last year’s budget referenced above, was vetoed by the governor, citing concerns that the section was over-broad and would impact current transportation of ethanol around the state.

    Language was inserted as an outside section (Section 240) to the FY15 budget that would place a moratorium on the issuance of a license for the expansion in a tidal zone of any facility in the communities of Cambridge, Chelsea, Revere, Everett, Somerville, the East Boston or Chelsea Creek for the purposes of receiving ethanol by rail until January 1, 2017. Further this section requires the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) to develop a comprehensive statewide response plan for incidents or accidents related to the transportation of ethanol by rail. MEMA is also required to develop a template response plan and technical guidance for adoption by municipalities through which ethanol is transported.

    Ultimately this section blocks – for the next 2 1/2 years – the controversial expansion of ethanol rail transportation at Global Petroleum’s facility on Chelsea Creek in Revere. Last year the company announced it was dropping plans for expansion and this legislation eliminates the potential for this project to go forward in the next couple of years.

    Andrew Bettinelli
    Legislative Aide
    Office of State Senator William N. Brownsberger

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