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Trains hauling oil and other flammable material should be better and more frequently inspected, a National Academies of Sciences report out Wednesday says.

Why it matters less today: The amount of oil shipped by rail has dropped 77% since its high in 2015.

Expand chart
Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration; Chart: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

What's driving the drop: "Trains receded into the background after the oil price fell and pipelines started up, both of which took pressure off the rail network," said Kevin Book, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners, an independent research firm.

The backstory: A series of fiery oil-train crashes over the last few years prompted federal regulators to issue a rule, finalized in May 2015, strengthening requirements for trains hauling flammable material like oil and ethanol. President Trump has targeted most Obama administration regulations for repeal, but so far he hasn't said anything about eliminating or scaling back this one.

Pipelines > rail: While rail offers companies more flexibility on where to move oil, pipelines are cheaper and safer, so they're generally preferred as the default oil mover where and when possible, most experts agree. If there's another big oil boom, you can expect oil-by-rail shipments to go back up, and that's where this report's findings and the regulation would come back to the front burner.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

11 mins ago - Technology

Scoop: Facebook exec warns of "more bad headlines"

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

In a post to staffers Saturday obtained by Axios, Facebook VP of global affairs Nick Clegg warned the company that worse coverage could be on the way: “We need to steel ourselves for more bad headlines in the coming days, I’m afraid.”

Catch up quick: Roughly two dozen news outlets had agreed to hold stories based on leaked materials from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen for Monday publication — but the embargo fell apart Friday night as participating newsrooms posted a batch of articles ahead of the weekend.

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

Inside Biden's Taiwan flubs

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Twice this year, President Biden has blurted out commitments that the U.S. is prepared to defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion — forcing the White House to walk back his statements and leading to confusion over a high-stakes national security policy.

Why it matters: U.S. defense officials have publicly aired their concerns that China will take Taiwan by force in the next four to six years, perhaps sooner. The president's position on this question may soon have real-world, life and death consequences.