This Wednesday, I’ll be delivering a message from more than 50 of my fellow Baltimore faith leaders to the City Council: We support a zoning ordinance that will limit crude oil train traffic within our city.
I plan to speak first as a rabbi, because the crude oil trains that have been documented traveling through Baltimore are dangerous. I take seriously the teaching from my own Jewish tradition’s great medieval scholar Maimonides that if there is any object that could cause mortal danger, one is required to remove it.
In 2013, a crude oil train derailment and explosion in Quebec killed 47 people. Numerous other derailments in rural areas have caused destructive fires. Each accident is a reminder that trains are a dangerous and unhealthy way to transport highly volatile crude oil.
A bill that would have required the Maryland Department of the Environment to study the risks of increasingly common crude oil rail shipments through the state has stalled in the Senate after passing in the House, and will not move forward.
I have come to believe that crude oil train shipments traveling through densely populated areas like Baltimore are a disaster waiting to happen and pose a mortal danger we are morally obliged to remove.
On Wednesday, I’ll also be testifying as a resident, parent, and community leader in Reservoir Hill, one of 165,000 neighbors who could be impacted by a crude oil train explosion. I’ll be speaking as someone who says bedtime prayers with my kids each night, mindful that a new tunnel could place crude oil train tracks within a block of our home. And our synagogue’s beautiful building, a sacred prayer sanctuary for 96 years now, sits inside the “blast zone,” at risk of harm in the event of an explosion or derailment.
We urgently ask the City Council to limit the movement of crude oil trains through Baltimore by banning new crude oil terminals within the city.
Beyond the direct danger to my own community and those nearby, we have a responsibility to protect our neighbors all across the country who live near rail lines linking us with oil drilling sites. By limiting the construction of new crude oil train terminals within our own city, we do our part to keep dangerous crude oil trains from bringing their risks and harms to other communities as well.
And finally, these crude oil trains feed a fossil fuel-based economy that is pouring heat-trapping pollution into our atmosphere and damaging our climate. Fossil fuel infrastructure perpetuates a moral crisis on a global scale. People of faith — and all people of good will — are called to shift, now, to clean energy. Continuing to rely on fossil fuels only accelerates the flooding, stronger storms, disease and drought already causing untold suffering as our climate changes. It is the most vulnerable people, in our own communities and around the world, who are among the first to suffer the consequences of climate change.
On Wednesday, as I deliver that message from my clergy colleagues, we’ll be speaking out together to reject expansion of fossil fuel transport or infrastructure. Any terminal that continues to enable the burning of fossil fuels is to us a “dangerous object.”
We call on our City Council to pass the zoning ordinance prohibiting crude oil terminals and to join us in prayer for the welfare of our neighborhoods, our region and our world.
Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Rabbi of Beth Am Synagogue and a resident of Reservoir Hill, working with other faith communities to address Baltimore's oil trains through Interfaith Power & Light.