Ethanol train plan is withdrawn, giving communities rare win against industry (updated)
The plan to run trains with ethanol through Cambridge and surrounding communities is dead.
Global Petroleum announced Tuesday that it has withdrawn its application to the state Department of Environmental Protection for a permit to receive ethanol by train at its terminal in Revere.
In a statement, the company thanked everyone from the department and other officials (“for their consideration of this application”) to the communities of the Commonwealth for their input during the permit process,” but did not go into details on the end of the years-long proposal.
“We look forward to continuing to work with the Commonwealth to serve the energy needs of Massachusetts and the Northeast region,” said Edward Faneuil, the company’s executive vice president, general counsel and secretary, in the statement.
The office of state Sen. Sal N. DiDomenico had confirmed the end of the plan Monday afternoon.
“It just happened,” said Jim Henry, of the senator’s constituent services department.
He said DiDomenico and state Sens. Pat Jehlen and Anthony Petruccelli were told by Faneuil that the proposal to ship ethanol by 60-car trains twice a week likely through parts of Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Revere and Somerville would be withdrawn from the Department of Environmental Protection.
Global is a “good company that doesn’t want to go against the wishes of the local community,” Faneuil told the senators, according to Henry.
The regional coalition of legislators and community activists opposed to the plan has achieved something significant, U.S. Rep. Mike Capuano suggested last month in a letter expressing doubt much could be done to stop the shipments – which would join countless other shipments of hazardous waste by rail taking place across the country annually.
“As far as I know, no other city has passed legislation banning the transit of hazardous materials and had the ban stand up in court,” Capuano said.
City councillor and state Rep. Tim Toomey, whose demand for a study of the plan helped win time to whip up resistance against it, credited “concerned citizens standing together, even more than the legislators,” who turned out in solid numbers for public forums and took action afterward, with getting Global Partners to back away.
While efforts against the plan began in earnest nearly a year ago, they ramped up in the spring with a series of forums where concerns were heightened by the recent bombing attacks at the Boston Marathon.
But there was another factor playing a role: A Senate budget amendment co-sponsored by DiDomenico, Jehlen, Petruccelli and Will Brownsberger that would have prevented the DEP from issuing the Chapter 91 license the company needed to expand its waterfront Revere facility to take ethanol by rail. Tim Snyder, chief of staff in Jehlen’s office, said the amendment survived a conference committee Monday and was on the desk of Gov. Deval Patrick awaiting signing.
“He could veto,” Snyder said. “It hasn’t crossed the finish line yet.”
Global Partners has been shipping ethanol by barge from Providence, R.I., but wanted to take the gas additive from the Midwest by rail through Western Massachusetts and ultimately to its plant in Revere. There were four possible paths that would be taken by the ethanol trains to deliver 187 million gallons every year. A total 191,992 people live within a half-mile of the four stretches of train tracks, and citizen groups among them were alarmed by the potential for disaster.
An ethanol fire can be fought only with a special and expensive chemical foam, which cities must buy themselves. Ethanol is vulnerable to bursting into flame from a single spark at only 63 degrees Fahrenheit, said councillor Minka vanBeuzekom, who sat on a two-months study group after the rail plan was announced.
Not only do tracks pass within several feet of Cambridge homes – and some residents were panicked at the thought of what ethanol passing twice a week would do to their property values – but right by Everett’s giant Liquefied Natural Gas storage facility; power substations at the Walden Street bridge in Cambridge and in Union Square in Somerville; through a short tunnel at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology building; and directly by the institute’s nuclear reactor.
“This has got to win terrible idea of the year. The idea you’re going to take almost a mile of highly flammable liquid and ram it through one of the most densely populated residential areas in the country is just a recipe for disaster,” councillor Leland Cheung said in June. “There’s not anybody in this room or watching at home who wouldn’t be in the evacuation zone if something were to happen.