WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2016— Before Alaska Railroad shipped liquefied natural gas (LNG) in September — the first rail shipment of LNG in U.S. history — the Federal Railroad Administration refused to publicly disclose documents showing how the shipments were approved and whether they are safe. The Center for Biological Diversity submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for those documents back in February and today sued the Administration for its failure to respond with relevant documents or information.
“The public deserves to know the risks of shipping LNG by rail through Alaska’s biggest cities and majestic wilderness. The federal government has an obligation to be transparent before approving or shipping a volatile fossil fuel,” said Miyoko Sakashita, a senior attorney at the Center. “We know that oil trains and LNG facilities both have deadly histories of explosions, so the secrecy surrounding this project should worry everyone.”
Shipping LNG by rail could expand the use of fossil fuels at a time when the United States is struggling to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change. Alaska is the first of several states to pursue such shipping, via its LNG-by-rail pilot program, which has been subjected to minimal public scrutiny. Orlando Sun-Sentinel columnist Michael Mayo reported in June that his request for public records about Florida’s LNG-by-rail proposal was denied on the grounds it was “propriety information.”
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The Center submitted its FOIA request for records related to Alaska’s LNG-by-rail project on Feb. 9. Since then, the Railroad Administration has taken no responsive actions or provided any estimates on when it might rule on the records request. As reported by the Associated Press and other media outlets, two Sept. 7 LNG shipments from Anchorage to Fairbanks, using specially designed 7,000-gallon rail tankers that keep the condensed fuel chilled to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, were the first in a pilot program running through the end of 2017.
“Expanding the country’s fossil fuel infrastructure by putting LNG tankers on our railways is a terrible idea. It deepens our climate crisis and puts families along rail lines at risk,” Sakashita said. “But to do it under a veil of secrecy, denying the public’s right to scrutinize this plan, is simply unacceptable, so we’re asking the courts to intervene.”