AG fights Trump rule allowing ‘bomb trains’ of explosive liquefied gas

Susan J. Demas

Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Friday that she has joined a coalition of 14 other AGs in urging a federal court to review a new rule that would allow highly explosive materials to be transported by rail across the country.

The petition, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, challenges the President Donald Trump administration’s controversial new federal rule that would let trains carry rail tanks full of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The practice has never been allowed before in the United States due to safety risks. 

“The lack of safety measures proposed by this administration and the risks posed to our communities are serious red flags I cannot overlook,” Nessel said in a statement Friday. “I’ve joined my colleagues in asking the court to intervene and review this rule to keep our communities safe. Studies on how to safely transport liquefied natural gas by rail are still ongoing, and this administration has rushed to implement a rule that will needlessly endanger people’s lives and threaten our environment.” 

LNG must be stored below -260 degrees, and upon escaping confinement, it expands rapidly to become a highly flammable and explosive cloud of gas. If ignited, the gas would create an inextinguishable pool of fire which could lead to a dangerous explosion.

Nessel, AGs push back on Trump environmental cutbacks

Nessel was among 15 other attorneys general who sent a letter opposing the proposed “LNG by Rail Rule” in January, urging the Trump administration to withdraw the proposal until its public safety and climate implications could be fully examined.

The AGs argue that transporting LNG by rail throughout each state, including Michigan, would present a significant risk of catastrophic accidents and harm the environment by emitting climate change-exacerbating greenhouse gases.

This is the latest environmental challenge to the Trump administration that Nessel has joined. She also has fought against rollbacks to the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, environmental review of infrastructure projects and more.

The California-based environmental law organization Earthjustice also filed a legal challenge to the federal rule on Tuesday.

Next up for Nessel: Taking on Trump over Endangered Species Act rollback

“Under this new rule, it’s only a matter of time before we see an explosion in a major population center,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Since the Trump administration isn’t upholding its duty to protect the American people from disaster, we’re taking them to court.”

The rulemaking process began after Trump issued an executive order in April 2019, directing the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to make liquefied natural gas able to be transported by rail. Currently, only trucks and specialized UN portable tanks are permitted to carry LNG.

Becky Ayech, president of the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida that’s part of the legal challenge, described the railcars as “moving bombs.”

The coalition of attorneys general bringing the petition also includes California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.

Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, immigration and criminal justice. She is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or listening to podcasts, she loves art and design, discovering new music, being out in nature and spending time with her two cats Rainn and Remy.