The Environmentalists' Train Wreck

Just days before Christmas, as parcels were being prepared and stockings stuffed, ten rail cars carrying crude oil from North Dakota, destined for a nearby Phillips 66 refinery, derailed along a section of BNSF track. The incident occurred just south of the Canadian border and was considered a low-speed derailment. While a plume of smoke billowed from some of the derailed tanker cars after they ignited, there were ultimately no injuries. The derailment caused some oil to spill and necessitated the evacuation of local residents closest to the incident.

Seattle media reported the incident with finger-wagging smugness directed toward the oil and gas industry although the event remains under investigation. Even U.S Representative, Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) chimed in with a statement, presumably because the incident occurred in his district.

I am concerned about the oil train derailment in Custer, WA. I worked closely with the Obama administration to create strong rules to make the transport of oil by rail safer. Clearly there may be more work to do.

However, insight from recent incidents in Washington State should have tipped off the media and congressman Larson that this event was no more about a failure of rail safety than a jet crash is about the failure of the tray table to stay in an upright position. 

Or a dangerous idiot.

Only a month earlier two women were arrested not far from the same section of track where these ten cars derailed. In that case two young terror suspects, both of whom appeared in Federal Court in Seattle in mid-December, were charged with Terrorist Attacks and Other Violence Against Railroad Carriers.

Two people arrested on the BNSF Railway tracks near Bellingham, Whatcom County, were charged with terrorist attack and other violence against a railroad carrier, and appeared in federal court today, announced U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran.  SAMANTHA FRANCES BROOKS, 27, and ELLEN BRENNAN REICHE, 23, both of Bellingham, Washington, were arrested Saturday night in Bellingham as they allegedly placed a ‘shunt’ on the tracks.  A shunt disrupts the low level electrical current on the tracks and can disable various safety features. 

“Since January there have been 41 incidents of shunts placed on the BNSF tracks in Whatcom and Skagit counties—causing crossing guards to malfunction, interfering with automatic braking systems, and, in one case, causing the near-derailment of tanks of hazardous chemicals,” said U.S. Attorney Moran.  “These crimes endanger our community.  I commend the agents from Customs and Border Protection, FBI, BNSF Police, and state and local partners who prioritized stopping this criminal conduct.”

The defendants, two pale-faced, pacific northwest locals, are accused of laying a wire “shunt” on the track. A tool beloved of environmental terrorists, shunts consist of a wire and magnets strung across a railroad track, mimicking the electrical signal of a train. The devices are intended to force trains to automatically brake, causing the train to derail or to otherwise disable railroad crossing guards and various other safety features along a track.

This is done by disrupting the low-level electrical current on the tracks. A camera captured Reiche and Brooks bent down along the track where the shunt was found. They were also carrying a brown paper bag containing rubber gloves, a piece of black insulated copper wire, and a Makita drill.  

Of particular note regarding the case of these environmental terrorists is that their efforts represent only one of 41 similar incidents of shunts having been placed on rail tracks in that part of Washington during 2020, nearly one per week throughout 2020.

Imagine for a moment that instead of having used shunts to damage property and to threaten human life, they had attempted to detonate a suicide vest, or had attempted to fly planes into buildings, or had attempted to blow up a parked truck in a downtown city street. Shunts on rail tracks are intended to have an equally tragic outcome for passenger trains and commercial trains alike. Shunts are non-discriminating after all.

That no one has yet been killed or injured, or that homes have not yet been destroyed by these terrorist tactics is nothing short of luck. Failed attacks make the attempts no less serious. But for the attention and acumen of BNSF workers who monitor the tracks, and the speed with which of law enforcement responded to the call when requested, the outcome could have been tragically different.

No emissions or pipelines here.

According to U.S. Attorney Brian Moran, in another shunting incident in October this year shunts were placed in three locations on tracks in northwest Washington. This prompted emergency brakes to engage on a train hauling flammable gas and hazardous chemicals. The braking caused a bar to fail that connects the train cars. As a result, the cars became separated. The decoupling had the potential to cause the derailment in a residential neighborhood.

Of these 41 incidents, there were at least ten different occasions where shunts were placed on the track near enough to a roadway to potentially cause crossing-signal and crossing-arm malfunctions, including failure to block traffic when a train was oncoming. On at least two occasions, individual shunts have interfered with multiple roadway/railway signals.

The narrative of these environmental zealots is that pipelines are an infringement on land rights; land that they assert belongs to North American Indian ,tribes. According to their narrative, by destroying pipelines, or in this case, transportation infrastructure, all will be right in the world of first nations' politics. These non-first nation terrorists are apparently even willing to kill innocents to make that point. 

According to investigators, shortly after the first shunts were discovered in January, 2020, a claim of responsibility was published on an anarchist website called It's The claim read, “the shunting activity was carried out in solidarity with Native American tribes in Canada seeking to prevent the construction of an oil pipeline across British Columbia, and with the express goal of disrupting BNSF operations and supplies for the pipeline.”

While many Americans look west and roll their eyes about the extremism of the environmental zealots in states like Washington, caution is advised. The cancer has already metastasized. Just a day after Christmas, while Canadians were celebrating Boxing Day, three Black Hills Energy gas line sites were vandalized in Colorado; two in Pitkins County and one in Aspen. The FBI has joined local police in the criminal investigation of what they are referring to as an apparent "coordinated attack."

It is clear that these gas line attacks in Colorado, like the shunt attacks on the rail lines in Washington, are part of a larger, anti-energy campaign designed to dismantle and destroy energy infrastructure and to harm life and property in the process. The last time there were terrorists intent on harming our way of life, they flew two planes into the World Trade Center on 9/11. In the face of that reality, the country must be ready to confront the threat directly, root out the financiers of the activity and punish those who choose to participate.

Climate Litigation: a Government Grab for Cash

Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is a clumsy bully, particularly when it comes to those who disagree with his obsession with redesigning society in response to climate alarmism. Whitehouse is also a promiscuous filer of often angry amicus curiae or “friend of the court,” briefs; his pet peeve is that parties who disagree with him have the same access to the judiciary that he does. His most recent fulmination, filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, has proved a particular embarrassment.

Sen. Whitehouse’s brief, joined by fellow climate extremists Sens. Ed Markey and Jack Reed (D-RI), assailed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for having dared to voice their opposition to Rhode Island v. Chevron Corp. et al., which seeks billions of dollars from energy companies for supposedly having caused climate change. The Chamber broke ranks, as the sole dissenting voice among a mob of fifty others weighing in in support of using the courts this way.

That was too much for Whitehouse, Rhode Island’s junior senator, who declared “The Chamber would clearly love to neuter the judicial branch of government on these questions to the benefit of its fossil fuel donors.” This is pretty salty stuff even considering it’s Whitehouse, who once asked  former attorney general Loretta Lynch if she would investigate opponents of the “climate” agenda for racketeering.

This bad look could get worse, and soon did in the form of newly obtained public records suggesting someone is indeed misusing the courts for money here, but it’s not who Sen. Whitehouse would have you believe. A devastating set of handwritten notes has come to light thanks to a state open-records law request by the transparency group Energy Policy Advocates (“EPA”). These notes, and a second, corroborating set of typed notes, reveal who is using the judiciary for what. These records offer two independent transcriptions of a shocking confession about Rhode Island’s lawsuit and, implicitly, all the rest of its ilk pouring into state courts around the country.

As Energy Policy Advocates recently informed the court earlier this month in its own amicus offering, the notes were taken during a two-day July 2019 meeting hosted by the philanthropic Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) at the Rockefeller family country estate in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.

The event was titled Accelerating State Action on Climate Change.” Various gubernatorial chiefs of staff, department secretaries, or cabinet equivalents attending this meeting came from both Republican and Democratic state administrations. Two environmentalist activist groups financed by the RBF, along with Tom Steyers Energy Foundation, were also in attendance.

The watchdog group obtained numerous emails, agendas and other materials, including typed notes of Katie McCormack of the Energy Foundation, and handwritten notes taken by the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Carla Frisch. One striking passage, replicated in both sets of notes, opens a troubling window onto this “climate nuisance” litigation. Frisch recorded the comments of Janet Coit, the director of Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management, as follows:

RI - Gen Assembly D but doesn’t care on env/climate

looking for sustainable funding stream

suing big oil for RI damages in state court

On its face this entry seems to be a confession that the Rhode Island legislature is not persuaded of the claims set forth by the State in this matter. It appears to also reflect a senior appointee of the governor explaining why the legislature has thereby declined to obtain from the taxpayer, and then appropriate to the State, the “sustainable funding stream” that the plaintiff Rhode Island desires. And so it is “suing big oil”.

None other than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce suggested as much, making numerous relevant observations in a 2019 report on the issue, summarized with, “local government leaders may eye the prospect of significant recoveries as a means of making up for budget shortfalls.

Fortunately, we can be confident that Frisch did not mishear director Coit. McCormack provided the Rockefeller Brothers Fund with a typewritten set of her own notes transcribing the proceedings. McCormack’s typewritten transcription of Coit’s commentary reads almost verbatim:

These notes on their face both affirm two realities that have become inescapable in recent years about this epidemic of “climate nuisance” litigation, all channeled into state courts after the first generation of suits floundered in federal court. These suits seek to use the courts to stand in for elected officials not willing to pay the political price for taxing their voters for the extra hundreds of billions of dollars they wish to spend.

Defendants in the Rhode Island “climate nuisance” case might be interested in obtaining further insight into what Coit meant by this and, if she claims as she no doubt will that it’s not what it seems, why two contemporaneous transcribers heard her the same, damning way.

Other emails obtained by Energy Policy Advocates reveal concern that the records would find their way to the public, and possible machinations to avoid that. The confession by Rhode Island’s Director of Environmental Management surely is one very big reason why.

It's time the courts formally confront that the “climate nuisance” litigation campaign generally, and we now know this lawsuit, specifically, is a grab for revenue and other desired policies that have eluded parties via the legislative process. Politicians are seeking the most favorable local court to stand in for that political process. Were they to succeed, the consumer and economy still would pay, but the politicians would escape responsibility for having charged them.