The Baltimore City Council approved two bills which sought to address local environmental issues earlier this year. At the end of March, Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh signed a bill prohibiting the construction and expansion of crude oil train terminals in the City. She postponed her vote to ban polystyrene products in local establishments.
Pugh has not set a date to sign the ban on polystyrene products, though the City Council passed the bill unanimously. If Pugh signs the bill into law, Baltimore City will join counties such as Takoma Park, Prince George’s County and Montgomery, which have all passed their own ban on polystyrene products.
Around 200 Baltimore City Public Schools students attended the City Council meeting at which they discussed the bill, calling on their representatives to pass the measure.
Baltimore Beyond Plastic (BBP), an environmental action group founded by local high school students, has worked with other advocacy groups to garner support for the bill. The Hopkins student group Students for Environmental Action (SEA) also helped advocate for the bill.
Similar bills failed to pass in 2006, 2008 and 2012 because of opposition from local businesses and companies which manufacture polystyrene products.
If Pugh signed the bill, businesses which were found to have violated the ban would be fined $1000. The measure gives City businesses 18 months to comply with the ban once it has been signed into law.
Councilmembers Ed Reisinger and Mary Pat Clarke, who represent the district including Charles Village and its surrounding neighborhoods, introduced the bill to prevent the construction of terminals for trains carrying crude oil.
The bill, titled the Crude Oil Terminal Prohibition, proposes a change to City zoning codes in order to prohibit the construction of new crude oil terminals and the expansion of the City’s two current terminals. Now, crude oil terminals are listed among facilities such as trash incinerators and nuclear power plants which cannot be built in Baltimore.
The Baltimore City Council Land Use and Transportation Committee approved the bill in a 14-1 vote in February.
Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) and Baltimore Clean Water Action (CWA) have led the campaign opposing crude oil trains since 2013, when a train traveling through Lac-Mégantic, Quebec exploded, killing 49 people. According to CWA, 165,000 Baltimore residents live in areas that may be affected by an explosion.
Advocates for the bill raise concerns over the dangers of crude oil train explosions as well as pollutants. Baltimore will be the first east coast city to pass a ban of this kind, joining Portland, Ore. and Whatcom County, Wash., which has a temporary referendum on unrefined fossil fuel shipments.
Research done by Dr. Vishnu Laalitha Surapaneni, a physician at the Hopkins Bayview Campus, has show that crude oil terminals can release volatile organic compounds which can cause a variety of health problems including liver and kidney dysfunction.
Crude oil shipments move between states under federal jurisdiction and can be hard to regulate through local government. Cities have turned to legislation, which limit the construction of crude oil terminals, particularly in urban areas.
Opponents of the bill have pointed out that unless other port cities follow Baltimore’s example, the measure may prove ineffective at limiting crude oil shipments. They fear that this will inhibit the environmental impact of the measure and will deter future investments in the City’s industry.