By Hazel Trice Edney
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – People of color are no stranger to shouldering more than their fair share of the burdens of modern society. It’s historically been the case. And the last two years – marked by the devastating pandemic, social unrest, including the most recent massacre in Buffalo, N.Y. among other racial injustices – have only underscored the disparate challenges faced by Black and other people of color.
Sadly, the next pain point for many of our communities may come from an entirely unexpected place: the merger of two large railroads.
At issue is a proposed $31 billion merger between Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroads, a transaction that will have massive implications while delivering little in discernible public benefit.
And beyond delivering little benefit to consumers or shippers still facing down years of volatility, critics say the merger will in fact bring a rash of negative consequences that reach far beyond the question of supply chain efficiency.
It is already clear which communities will bear the brunt of those negative consequences. Canadian Pacific is already one of the largest shippers of crude oil in the nation. In some places, like Minnesota, Canadian Pacific is already the largest shipper of crude oil. Their acquisition of an American Class I railroad, Kansas City Southern, will only make it more appealing for Canadian oil producers eager to move their crude from the Canadian oil fields south through the United States and on to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
How much more? Last fall, during a call with investors, Canadian Pacific executives excitedly announced that their merger with Kansas City Southern would enable them to send around 20 more oil trains per month through Minnesota and on to the refineries. And given that it’s almost impossible to get an oil pipeline built these days, the volume of crude moving by rail is only going to go up from there.
Here’s the problem with that: those 20 additional dirty oil trains aren’t rolling through rich White suburbs. No, typically, these routes run through the poor communities – the communities that so many people of color call home. That’s a problem. And it’s yet another example of minority communities being asked to bear the brunt of a scheme that lines the pockets of corporate interests without doing anything to advance the greater good.
And the proliferation of more crude oil trains moving through communities inhabited by people of color are not the only concern. The proposed merger would bring with it significant increases in heavy truck traffic moving in and out of intermodal facilities from Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City down through Houston, all of which will bring increased noise and delays at crossings, backups at railyards, and a consistent eyesore, in addition to an expected increase in diesel emissions. Many of us are all too familiar with the poor air quality in many of these cities; areas that for too long have been ignored or at least forgotten while their residents deal with poor air quality that leads to increased risk of health problems and chronic illness for the residents.
These are issues that the White House has said it takes seriously. And the U.S. EPA has trotted out slogans indicating that it is doing more than just paying lip service to environmental justice.
Yet, in numerous communities, the companies expect traffic to increase by as much as 50 percent. For “at grade” crossings, which require road traffic to stop to allow trains to move through, the presence of additional trains will disrupt businesses and daily life alike with delays and congestion. It’s an annoyance when you’re just trying to get home from work… but when it’s a first responder sitting at a crossing for ten or even forty minutes, it’s another thing altogether.
This merger is problematic for any number of reasons. But as is so often the case, people of color haven’t been given a fair opportunity to hear directly from the project’s proponents or, more importantly, to speak on why it’s a bad deal. There have been no public hearings in the communities that stand to be impacted by this project. That means no dialogue with the people who will have to look out their windows and see a 12,000-foot crude oil train rumbling by or will have to deal with the hundreds of new tractor trailer trucks moving through their neighborhood on a daily basis.
People of color and low income communities deserve better. Rural communities also deserve better. All of us deserve better than to be force-fed a merger that does nothing but line corporate pockets while putting our people at risk.
The Biden Administration and federal regulators should not approve this project. And at an absolute minimum, they should ensure that the communities put at risk by this merger have an opportunity to speak up in public hearings so they are no longer forgotten or ignored about an issue that will have very real consequences for their daily lives.