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City Council Looks To Ban New Crude Oil Terminals In Baltimore

A bill introduced in the Baltimore City Council Monday night would prohibit the expansion of the city's two crude oil terminals, and forbid the building of new ones.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clark and Councilman Ed Resinger proposed the legislation to be part of the city's zoning code. WYPR's Dominique Maria Bonessi talks with Nathan Sterner about the bill.

NATHAN: What is the concern with the crude oil terminals?

DOMINIQUE: So the concern isn't so much the crude oil terminal as it is crude oil rails coming in through Baltimore. Chesapeake Climate Action Network reports that 450,000 barrels a day come to the East Coast. And the concern really is crude oil could spill and there could be large explosions. In 2013, Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada, experienced an explosion when 20 train cars of crude oil tipped over and spilled into the town. In that, 47 people were killed. Afterwards, the town looked as if it were the sight of a nuclear bomb of some sort. Then in 2014, in Lynchburg, Virginia, tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil spilled into the James River. And then Baltimore has had its share of derailments, not crude oil, but back in 2001 there was a derailment in the Howard Street Tunnel which caused the city to shut down for the day and millions of dollars in economic loss. So it is really an environmental hazard that could lead to catastrophic consequences. And just to put this in further context, in 2013 the investigation after the Lac Megantic tragedy basically found that the vessels they were transporting the crude oil in, they were not up to code, or standards, these vessels were not supposed to be transporting crude oil.

NATHAN: So this is an effort to get less crude oil in and out of Baltimore, but the city does not have jurisdiction over the train routes does it?

DOMINIQUE: It does not, here is what Mary Pat Clarke had to say about jurisdiction. 

MARY PAT CLARKE: "That was something that we could do besides just sending letters to Washington D.C. And so that it was exactly what we decided to do, which is to say look we have prohibited uses there aren’t many of them on the list in the zoning code.”

DOMINIQUE: So she is really trying to cap the crude oil terminals to two. Right now we only have two. She wants to keep it that way, and does not want to allow for any more expansion. But that still doesn't prevent trains coming through with crude oil, she is really hoping it will prevent more crude oil from coming into the city. 

NATHAN: Does the timing of this bill have anything to do with the relatively low gas prices we've been experiencing recently?

DOMINIQUE: Right, economically gas prices are pretty low. Supply and demand deems that there is less crude oil coming into the city. Here is what Mary Pat Clarke had to say about the price oil and the fear that jobs could be lost. 

MARY PAT CLARKE: “It is a good time to cap it, cap it at what we have. So people are not going to be losing jobs or anything.”

NATHAN: So what happens next for this bill? Where does it go from here?

DOMINIQUE: So, with support of almost all the council members it will go to the Land Use and Transportation Committee. And Mary Pat Clarke said they are trying to implement this bill by spring of 2018.

WYPR's Morning Edition news anchor Ashley Sterner serves up the latest Maryland news and weather every weekday morning, delightfully interspersed with the occasional snarky comment.