We were encouraged recently to watch the Baltimore City Council vote overwhelmingly to move forward with a bill that would ban volatile crude oil terminals.
That was a forward-thinking move.
One of us is a 40-year veteran railroader, worker representative and wreck investigator who has labored in rail and marine work in and through Baltimore for decades.
The other worked for 38 years in high-voltage testing and maintenance at some of the most sensitive points in our electrical system, and now serves on the Turner Station Conservation Teams working for a just transition for communities nearest the Port of Baltimore.
We both spoke out at the public hearing for the Crude Oil Terminal Prohibition because we believe this bill is absolutely necessary – not just to protect the public from increased volatile crude oil shipments and the potential for catastrophic derailments, but also to ensure that Baltimore’s port continues to grow as a leader in renewable energy that is safe, healthy, and sustainable for both workers and surrounding communities.
At the hearing, opponents of the bill claimed it would put the port at a competitive disadvantage, but nothing could be further from the truth. Tying the port’s future to one particularly precarious commodity is an obviously bad idea.
The public is rightly concerned about the issue of safety. Imagine if the CSX cars that blew into the Susquehanna River last week had been carrying crude oil. Or if the incident had occurred near a residential area.
But crude oil terminals are deadly dangerous not only in practice but in economic terms.
Unsafe, Unpredictabile Industry
Expanded reliance upon volatile crude oil is no way to build a dependable “good jobs” future for Baltimore. Baltimore has already seen this movie.
Working in the shipbuilding industry in Baltimore in the early 1980s, we experienced exactly the kind of marketplace volatility that would result from an expansion of crude oil terminal infrastructure. Work was completely unpredictable, as was the income. The industry is now gone and so is the work that came with it.
It would be a serious political mistake to repeat that cycle when the writing is so clear on the wall. As railroaders and shippers and laborers and all the rest, we need terminals in Baltimore that produce, ship, and receive goods, not just dangerous, one-way operations that the volatile crude oil industry promises.
Consider the experience of Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES), the largest refiner of volatile crude oil on the East Coast. They announced bankruptcy last month.
That project was sold to Philadelphians on the promise of jobs. Now huge resources must be spent in damage control to sustain the unsustainable.
The reason for the collapse of PES is the complete unreliability of the crude oil marketplace. That volatility makes it incapable of producing sustainable work for anyone — not railroaders, not builders, not chemical workers, no one.
More Sustainable Choices
The factors that determine the profitability of transporting crude oil for export are entirely outside of the control of anyone in this country. It will always be a wildly fluctuating business.
Compare that volatility to the stability and promise of the clean energy economy. Baltimore has the potential to be a renewable energy hub and a leader in burgeoning sustainable industries on the East Coast.
The Maryland Public Service Commission approved two large offshore wind projects last year, and the manufacturing and assembly for those wind turbines is set to be based in Baltimore.
Offshore wind development has the potential to bring thousands of reliable, safe jobs to the Port of Baltimore that will continue for decades.
These projects will help generate clean, renewable energy for the state of Maryland and jumpstart economic development at Sparrows Point and neighboring communities like Turner Station, which were harmed by deindustrialization and are still bearing the weight of environmental pollution from industries long gone.
Now is the time for the city to say a clear “no” to expanded fossil fuel development and fight to make sure that offshore wind comes to Maryland instead. These are the jobs and industries that will build Baltimore’s future, not the fossil fuel infrastructure of the past.
If the fossil fuel industry were to expand crude oil terminals in Baltimore, they would threaten the city’s future economic viability.
More crude oil terminals would commit the city to an economic course that will deny people here sustainable work and safety into the future, as well as obstruct opportunities to use our land and resources in a more constructive way.
We can return Baltimore to prosperity, but not by trying to bring back the polluting industries of the past – instead we should look forward and develop a 21st century vision for the city.
We call on Mayor Pugh to sign Bill 17-0150 which is titled the “Crude Oil Terminal Prohibition,” but it could just as well have this more positive title:
“Building a Sustainable and Competitive Baltimore.”
– Larry Bannerman is a leader with Turner Station Conservation Teams. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Fritz Edler is a veteran locomotive engineer, wreck investigator and special representative with Railroad Workers United. His email is email@example.com.