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Public, industry weigh in as the government drafts rules to address fiery oil train crashes

Smoke rises from railway cars carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Megantic, Quebec. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

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Smoke rises from railway cars carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Megantic, Quebec. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

WASHINGTON - The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is drafting regulations to improve the safety of rail shipments of crude oil following a series derailments, explosions and fires. With billions of dollars at stake, the railroad, oil, ethanol and chemical industries have been trying to shape the rules to their advantage in a series of meetings with the White House and PHMSA. A key issue is tougher standards for tank cars used to ship oil. The public has weighed in primarily through letters, emails and phone calls to the agency.

Some comments:

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"Our work on this rule is a work that is organized around what is the safest approach to the movement of this crude oil, particularly given the volumes in which it is moving around the country. ... There is the tank car itself, but as we have said for many months there is also speed, there is also track quality, there are also any number of things." — Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, speaking to reporters, July 1, 2014

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"By and large we are critical of the process. It appears to be one in which industry and regulators are negotiating behind closed doors with very little public participation. ... This is not because the public hasn't been concerned and engaged." — Anthony Swift, attorney, Natural Resources Defence Council, in an interview

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"The older cars must go, or simply be illegal on U.S. rails. That will get the attention and action from all the oil companies transporting petroleum products in the U.S. If not, who dies the next time a derailment happens? We all know that's when and not if." — Russell Pesko of Plainfield, Illinois, in comments filed with PHMSA

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"For decades, the oil and chemical industries have fought and delayed remediation of significant safety flaws and weaknesses in the older tank cars to the detriment of the American public. I am decidedly not impressed by their claims that it's too expensive to upgrade safety." — Michael Reich, Glendale Heights, Illinois, in comments filed with PHMSA

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"It was astonishing to learn of how long it has been known that this tanker train easily explodes when derailed. Please be the one who acts to remove these tankers permanently and see that they are replaced with tankers that are designed to far higher standards of safety." — Trudy McDaniel, South Orange, New Jersey, in comments filed with PHMSA

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"Minimizing the risk of accidents must be a top priority. I fully expect the end user will have to pay the costs, since I expect the costs to be passed on. That is okay. Safety first!" — Eldon Jacobson, Seattle, Washington, in comments filed with PHMSA

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"We were very supportive of moving forward with the 1232 (tank car). It may be that the physical characteristics of the volatile crude oil coming from Bakken need more than that. Some data would suggest that. That's not my wheelhouse." — Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, a trade association for the ethanol industry, in an interview

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"All of the data shows essentially the same thing, that Bakken crude is similar to other light, sweet crude oils. ... We think these (1232) tank cars can continue." — Bob Greco, senior official with the American Petroleum Institute, in an interview.

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