Wrong Side of the Tracks: The Neglected Human Costs of Transporting Oil and Gas

The connection between human rights and climate change is most evident when examining carbon dioxide emissions that result from burning fossil fuels (e.g., sea level rise and displaced coastal cultures). However, the transport of fossil fuels also has human rights implications for human rights and climate change. This research focuses on the health and safety risks inflicted on those residents who are adjacent to the railways that ship fossil fuels along the US-Canada transportation corridors. Applying sociological and jurisprudential perspectives, we review the environmental/climate justice literature as it pertains to industrial transport corridors, documenting the forms of heightened risk imposed on those living along these transportation paths. Next, we develop an illustrative case study of Canada’s worst rail catastrophe. In so doing, we provide evidence of a decades-long failure of US and Canadian regulators to prevent such disasters. We interpret that disaster through a human rights case law suggesting that States have an affirmative duty to protect their citizens from foreseeable disasters. Based on this analysis, we propose specific rail safety regulatory reforms. We argue that if the US and Canadian governments implement these regulations as required under human rights law, they can more effectively honor their obligations to their citizens who are paying a high human cost for the material benefits associated with increased energy production.

 
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