Tea Party Reps Offer Theatrics on Exploding Oil Trains

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As we noted earlier this month, trains full of rich crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale boom are rumbling across America in greater and greater numbers. And sometimes they explode. Congress recently waded into the issue with a hearing on the safety concerns surrounding these oil trains.

Crude from North Dakota’s Bakken formation is particularly explosive, and the trains that carry it to refineries around the country, referred to as “bomb trains” by activists, drew widespread concern after a devastating derailment last year claimed the lives of 47 in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, a small Canadian town near the border with Maine. Many local- and state-level officials have been aggressive in seeking to protect their constituents from a similar disaster, and in July the Obama administration proposed new rules to regulate these trains — though some say the plan would not go far enough.

When House Republicans announced a hearing on the issue, the panel’s name, “Hearing on Bakken Petroleum: The Substance of Energy Independence,” indicated something of a bias toward Big Oil. And the hearing itself, DeSmogBlog — an environmentalist news site that watches oil trains closely — notes, ended up as little more than an opportunity for the chairs of several relevant committees to obfuscate the science around the dangerous nature of Bakken crude.

Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga, and candidate for US Senate talks to voters during the "Grillin with the Governor" campaign event Saturday, May 17, 2014 in Buford, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Rep. Paul Broun, R-GA, talks to voters during the “Grillin with the Governor” campaign event May 17, 2014 in Buford, GA. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The worst offender was Georgia Republican Paul Broun. Though a doctor, Broun is not modern science’s biggest fan. “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell,” he once said. “Scientists all over this world say that the idea of human induced global climate change is one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated out of the scientific community. It is a hoax. There is no scientific consensus,” he declared on another occasion.

So we might not expect him to interact particularly well with a scientist. After repeatedly reiterating his disappointment that the regulators he wanted to testify were not the ones the Obama administration allowed to testify, he got down to business by bullying Timothy P. Butters, the deputy administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Here’s an example, via DeSmogBlog’s Justin Mikulka.

Broun: “Is ignitability and flammability synonymous with volatility?”

Butters: “Volatility in the science vernacular is a material’s propensity to vaporize and so as a flammable liquid has a higher propensity to vaporize, then it introduces…it has a higher likelihood of ignitability.”

Broun: “Can you answer yes or no to this question?”

Butters: “I’m trying to answer the question.”

Broun: “I’ve got limited time. I’ve got several questions. Ok. Obviously you can’t answer it. Again that just reiterates my disappointment.”

Given Broun’s repeated invocation of deep disappointment, DeSmogBlog reached out to Broun’s office this week to find out who the Congressman would have preferred to discuss the scientific facts of Bakken crude with. They found that he requested testimony from non-scientists who came to government from regulated industries through the revolving door.

The first was Dr. Paula Gant. Gant is the deputy assistant secretary for oil and natural gas in the department of energy’s office of fossil energy. She has a PhD in economics and is not a petroleum scientist. Prior to her role with the DOE, Gant worked for the gas industry and the notorious Duke Energy.

The other was Dr. Magdy El-Sibaie, the associate administrator of the Office of Hazardous Materials Safety. While El-Sibaie does have an engineering background, his extensive experience focuses on the issues of railroad track safety, including eight years working for rail industry lobbying group the American Association of Railroads.

So the two “scientists” Broun wanted to have at the hearing actually had less experience with the issues of Bakken crude than the witnesses who testified.

Read the full post at DeSmogBlog.

And for more Congressional hijinks, check out White House Science Advisor Dr. John Holdren battling it out with climate change denying lawmakers at a hearing on Wednesday.

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