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In this July 6, 2013, file photo, smoke rises from railway cars from now-defunct Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railways company that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada. Attorneys general for Maryland and 14 other states and the District of Columbia have called on the Trump administration to ban the transport of liquefied natural gas by rail out of concern for a similar disaster.
In this July 6, 2013, file photo, smoke rises from railway cars from now-defunct Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railways company that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada. Attorneys general for Maryland and 14 other states and the District of Columbia have called on the Trump administration to ban the transport of liquefied natural gas by rail out of concern for a similar disaster. (Paul Chiasson)

Nearly seven years ago, a small town in the Canadian province of Quebec suffered a disaster of historic proportions when an unattended freight train slipped down a hill and tank cars loaded with crude oil derailed in the downtown. Much of Lac-Mégantic was reduced to embers, consumed by fire and explosions with 30 buildings destroyed and 47 people dead in the half-mile blast radius. It was one of the worst rail disasters in that nation’s history, and a mere 600 miles from Maryland. Now, imagine that instead of crude oil, those tank cars were filled with volatile natural gas that has been cooled to liquid form. The resulting conflagration could have been even worse.

Those are the stakes involved with the transport of liquefied natural gas by rail, so it’s no surprise that Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh is at the vanguard of 16 U.S. attorneys general who this week urged the Trump administration to withdraw a plan to allow bulk transport of LNG without additional safety measures. The opposing AG’s represent California, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia and Maryland.

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We have no doubt that it’s theoretically possible to transport such hazardous material safely, but the proper standards are not yet in place. Nor has the Trump administration considered the broader implications of increasing access to such a potent source of greenhouse gases. In case no one in the White House has noticed (and admittedly, they haven’t), the growing threat of climate change — represented most recently and frighteningly by the four-month-long Australian wildfires that may represent the new “normal” on a warming planet — deserves greater consideration. Would this policy make the U.S. more energy independent or merely speed the future of rising sea levels, worsening droughts, more intense hurricanes and melting polar ice caps? The evidence pointing toward the latter is abundant.

Even within the energy industry, there has long been debate over the safety of LNG transport given the realities of U.S. freight lines, which often run through highly populated areas and are far from accident free. Last year, trains were involved in 1,642 accidents and “incidents" (such as derailments), according to the Federal Railroad Administration. LNG must be stored under extreme conditions to maintain its minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit temperature. When it escapes, it quickly returns to a gaseous state where it is highly flammable, odorless and potentially explosive. So instead of a small town in rural Canada, imagine a disaster happening in the Howard Street Tunnel in downtown Baltimore. The stakes are high. In 2001, a CSX derailment in the Howard tunnel unleashed a chemical fire that burned for most of a week. A cause was never found.

Currently, LNG shipment isn’t allowed by rail. It’s considered a hazardous material. But the executive order signed by President Donald Trump last April directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to allow LNG rail shipment — potentially as early as this May. The U.S. doesn’t need this. The nation has a glut of natural gas thanks to shale production. Prices are down globally. So what’s the rush? It appears to be just another handout to the fossil fuel industry by an administration that will do just about anything that Big Energy wants whether it involves oil, gas or coal no matter the consequence for the environment, human health or public safety.

Making the whole thing all the more incredible is that this administration likes to talk about the threat of terror and terrorists. What kind of terrorist target does a freight train pulling dozens of tank cars with perhaps a single conductor and no security on board represent? Surely, a major one. Opponents of the Trump LNG proposal include the National Association of State Fire Marshals and the International Association of Fire Fighters. They understand how reckless deregulating such shipments would be to the public and especially to first responders.

The attorneys general ask the administration to withdraw its proposal and at least wait for pending safety studies by the FRA and others to be completed. We second that request. When even a big natural gas state like Pennsylvania (a top five within the U.S. in both production and consumption of natural gas) recognizes the hazards involved, it’s time the nation’s president got on board the safety train, too.

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