Ericksen oil-train safety bill keeps to the track

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DOT-111 tank cars. (Uploaded by dhaluza. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. )

Oil-train safety looms again as a major issue in the 2015 legislative session as a measure sponsored by state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, gets its first hearing Thursday.

The key difference between Ericksen’s bill and competing oil-train proposals that have been heard over the last couple of sessions? This one keeps to the track.

“This is the oil-train bill that deals with oil trains,” Ericksen said. “Everyone is rightly concerned with the safety of oil shipments by rail. The state ought to do everything it can to ensure these shipments are as safe as possible. That’s what we do with this bill.”

Ericksen’s bill, Senate Bill 5057, will be heard in the Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee 1:30 p.m. Thursday in Senate Hearing Room 4. The measure builds upon a similar bill introduced by Ericksen last session and adds ideas suggested by a state study last fall. The bill would:

  • Requires the Department of Ecology to review and complete oil-spill response plans.
  • Requires Ecology to provide grants to ensure first responders are equipped for spills.
  • Extends the oil-spill tax, currently levied on tanker shipments of crude oil, to include deliveries by rail.
  • Requires Ecology and the Utilities and Transportation Commission to host a symposium on oil spill prevention and response.
  • Modernizes the definition of oil for current tanker-safety programs.
  • Allows first-class cities to opt-in to UTC’s railroad-crossing safety inspection program.
  • Requires local emergency planners to develop hazardous materials plans.
  • Appropriates $10 million from the state Model Toxics Control Account for first responder grants.

A competing proposal has been introduced on behalf of Gov. Jay Inslee as SB 5087. That measure imposes new rules on tanker and barge shipments, and further extends the oil-spill taxation program to pipelines.

“There are some solid, legitimate concerns about the safety of oil transportation by rail,” Ericksen said. “That is what has brought this issue to public attention, and people are right to want to do something about it. But the truth is, the state has only limited authority to regulate rail shipments – that is a federal concern. What we can do on the state level is to be ready if trouble arrives by rail.

“So that’s what this bill does. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway already is doing extensive work in training first responders. We’re trying to identify the gaps in existing programs and fill them. This is an issue that deserves a calm, thoughtful response. We get there by staying on track.”