Exploding oil train, heroin highways and the EPA’s civil rights record

HCN.org news in brief


The West’s open spaces allow drugs like black-market prescription drugs, narcotics and heroin to move faster and farther than in the highly compartmentalized East. Mexican drug cartels have successfully established hubs and transport routes along Western highways. That has helped fuel high rates of opioid overdoses in Western states and allowed a wave of drugs to flow over the border. In 2014, the Drug Enforcement Agency estimated that a quarter-million pounds of heroin passed through the West. Since then, officials estimate that Mexico has increased its heroin production by 50 percent to quench the United States’ growing thirst for the drug.
-Paige Blankenbuehler

50: distance, in feet, that flames rose into the air in the Columbia River Gorge when a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed and four rail cars exploded.

500: distance, in feet, between the train tracks and Mosier Community School, where students had to be evacuated. 

On June 3, part of a Union Pacific train carrying 96 tanker cars of highly volatile Bakken crude oil derailed near Mosier, Oregon, 16 cars folding together in a great clanking din. Four exploded and smeared the sky with greasy black smoke that was visible for miles. No one was injured, and only a tiny fraction of the total amount of oil aboard spilled or vaporized. Still, the conflagration underscored the fears of oil-train opponents, who have long warned that a boom in the transport of oil by rail through the region threatens countless communities, as well as the Columbia River itself.
-Sarah Gilman 

9/10: Proportion of civil rights claims alleging environmental discrimination that have been dismissed by the Environmental Protection Agency. In its 23-year history of processing such claims, the office has never issued a formal finding of a Title VI violation. A group that analyzed EPA records suggests that within the agency, civil rights law has been relegated to “non-existence.” Earthjustice is suing the EPA on behalf of communities in several states, including New Mexico and California, for allowing five separate complaints to languish for more than a decade.
-Sarah Tory 

High Country News Classifieds