Justin Mikulka

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Justin Mikulka is a freelance writer, audio and video producer living in Trumansburg, NY.

Justin has a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Cornell University.

Senator Backed by Rail Companies Introduces New Bill That Would De-Regulate Rail Industry

Locomotive

A new bill by one of the rail industry’s favorite senators looks to change how the industry is regulated to allow “market forces to improve rail safety.” In June, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who happens to chair the Senate Surface Transportation Subcommittee, introduced the Railroad Advancement of Innovation and Leadership with Safety (RAILS) Act.

In essence, the bill seeks to shift the rail industry toward a self-regulatory — and more difficult to enforce — approach to safety known as “performance-based regulation,” an effort first reported by DeSmog after a Congressional hearing in May.

Trump’s Ignorance Reveals Why Exporting Crude Oil for 'National Security' Is a Myth

Trump and Polish President Duda

During President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Poland, he got a lesson in the reality of the global oil and gas market from Polish President Andrzej Duda. In his prepared remarks, Trump addressed the issue of U.S. oil and gas exports, saying, “America stands ready to help Poland and other European nations diversify their energy supplies, so that you can never be held hostage to a single supplier.” 

In the question and answer session that followed, Trump exhibited some of his characteristic bravado when he offered to negotiate a liquefied natural gas (LNG) agreement right then and there. 

I think we can enter a contract for LNG within the next 15 minutes,” Trump said. “Do you have anybody available to negotiate? It will take about 15 minutes.”

Which put President Duda in the awkward position of having to explain to the American president how international energy deals actually happen. As The Hill reported, “Duda laughed in response, saying that it is up to private companies in both countries, not the presidents, to negotiate such a deal.”  

“We Got Lucky” - Four Years After Lac-Megantic, Another Oil Train Accident

We were very lucky in this instance,” Plainfield Fire Chief David Riddle said. “There was no fire, nobody got hurt by the grace of God.”

As the residents of Lac-Megantic were preparing to acknowledge the 4th anniversary of the oil train disaster that leveled and poisoned their downtown and killed 47 people, residents of Plainfield, Illinois were happy to just be complaining about the odor of spilled oil after a train pulling 115 tank cars of Canadian crude oil derailed near their neighborhood.

Regulators Helped Oil-by-Rail Company Avoid Environmental Review, California Court Rules

Oil train cars

This week, a court in California overturned a permit allowing the expansion of an oil-by-rail terminal near Bakersfield, California. The opinion from that court ruling reads like a case study for corporations looking to avoid the two biggest hurdles to getting such a project approved: environmental review and public notice and comment. 

Fossil Fuel CEOs Say They Just Want to Lift People Out of Poverty. Do You Believe Them?

Rex Tillerson

In a 2013 interview about the risks and rewards of oil exploration, Charlie Rose asked then Exxon CEO (and now Secretary of State) Rex Tillerson if his philosophy was “Drill, baby, drill!” 

Tillerson replied that his philosophy was “to make money.” At the same time, during his tenure as CEO of ExxonMobil, he also discussed how energy companies are eager to help lift the developing world out of poverty — a slightly different perspective.  

Oil Trains Remain Industry’s Long-term Plan for Shipping to West Coast

Train with mountains in the background

Despite a string of recent successes by West Coast communities to block the construction of oil-by-rail facilities, the oil industry has no plans to give up using rail to move oil to the West Coast. And it isn’t hard to understand why. There are no plans for oil pipelines from North Dakota to California or Washington. And with indications that the Bakken field may already be declining, any investment in such a project is highly unlikely. 

And unlike at East Coast refineries, those in the west don't have the option to buy light crude from Africa, delivered via tanker, which is a better option than buying Bakken oil from North Dakota or Montana, delivered by rail, when oil prices are low. That's why the oil industry continues to pursue its long-term plans to move oil west via train. 

New York Attorney General: Feds Must Address Bakken Bomb Trains. Feds: Maybe Later?

Fireball

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has joined with attorneys general from California, Illinois, Maryland, Maine, and Washington in calling for limits on the volatility of crude oil transported by rail. The failure of federal regulators and Congress to address this known safety issue has led Schneiderman to continue to pressure regulators on it.

Trump’s New Era of Industry Self-Regulation Begins for Oil by Rail

Crossing train tracks

In case you were wondering how industry-friendly the federal government is becoming, look no futher than Representative Jeff Denham (R-CA), chair of the Congressional Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. He recently opened a hearing on pipeline and rail regulations with the following sentiment: 

Regulation has grown significantly in recent years and so we are here to ask stakeholders about the impact and burden of regulation on their businesses and ways to ease the burden without compromising safety.” 

New Book, Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Details Fossil Fuel Titans Behind Climate Crisis

From the book cover, Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Horsemen of the Apocalypse is the new book by environmental journalist Dick Russell that details the people and institutions most responsible for today’s climate and environmental crisis. Russell focuses on fossil fuel titans like Charles and David Koch; Secretary of State and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson; CEO of fracking giant Continental Resources Harold Hamm; and Peabody Coal chief Greg Boyce. 

As carbon dioxide has risen to atmospheric levels not witnessed on earth in millions of years, a relative handful of men have fought to maintain their power and wealth at the expense of all civilization,” Russell writes. “This book scrutinizes who these people are, their means of confusing the truth, and how they justify their actions.”

Gas Barge Grounding in New York Shows Risk of Turning Hudson River into ‘Pipeline on Water’

On April 4 a barge carrying 60,000 barrels of gasoline ran aground in the Hudson River and was stranded for hours while New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation tried to determine if the barge was leaking. Luckily the Hudson is a tidal river and when the tide rose, the ship was able to be freed. No gasoline had spilled this time. 

However, the nature of the accident highlights the risks of moving petroleum products in barges and tankers on the Hudson River — something that may become a lot more common in the near future. Basil Seggos, head of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, explained to the Albany Times Union what caused the accident but couldn’t explain why it happened. 

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