Environmental Justice in the United States
Race and Class related Environmental Risks by freight "bomb trains" on California's Railways
By Robert Clinton, 2015-07-09
ForestEthics and Communities for a Better Environment, two environmentally-focused action groups, have just co-authored a new report detailing the ways in which California's industrial railways most negatively impact the state's most vulnerable communities. Crude Injustice on the Rails explains some of the nuances of oil transportation, including the How's and Where's of the freight train industry as it pertains to the movement of oil throughout the state of California and United States. So-called bomb trains, often out-of-date tankers transporting volatile Bakken crude oil, are often involved in the most deadly and disastrous rail accidents, and have been known, in cases of derailment, to destroy entire communities. Their blast zones are officially considered to be the one-mile radius surrounding the track, but in some cases toxicity and pollution from bomb train accidents are seen and felt as far a five miles away. And, even under normal operation and without any accidents, railway industry often plagues the surrounding community with health problems, such as higher rates of cancer and asthma, and a decrease in air quality that obviously cannot be contained to a singly community, city, or even county.

The controversy surrounding oil transportation is further complicated when one looks at whose lives in the communities are most impacted. Crude Injustice on the Rails states that these trains travel most often through non-white, low income, and/or non-English speaking communities. Through a series of maps, tables, and graphs, ForestEthics and Communities for a Better Environment create profiles for California's largest rail yards and oil-distribution facilities, each telling the same story about who lives in these communities – the same people who've historically been most discriminated against socially and environmentally. Further complicating the matter is the profitability of this trade; California hopes to increase the amount of incoming oil by rail from 1% (2014) to 25% sometime in the near future, upping the number of bomb cars, and potential accidents, in communities characterized by poverty, minority residents, and immigrants. Further reading from ForestEthics find here. Aljazeera's analysis can be found here.
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