Senate panel votes out oil-train safety bill

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

OLYMPIA… An oil-train measure that aims to boost safety without jumping the rails was approved Jan. 27 by the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee.

Senate Bill 5057, sponsored by state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale leverages funding, training and equipment for first responders. Changes adopted by the committee expand state authority to inspect rail crossings and establish a workgroup to examine whether new regulations are needed for waterborne transport of oil on the Columbia River and in Grays Harbor.

“The public is right to be concerned about the safe transportation of oil by rail,” Ericksen said. “That’s what we address with this bill – we want to make sure these shipments are done safe and done right. This is an important bill that offers important protections for the people of the state of Washington.”

The measure moves on to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, next stop on its way to the floor of the Senate. A key difference between Ericksen’s bill and a competing measure introduced on behalf of Gov. Jay Inslee, SB 5087, is that it keeps its focus on rail, and it does not provide a broad grant of authority to state agencies to update maritime-transportation rules. A study of the issue offers a solid middle ground, Ericksen said.

“We have one of the most robust systems of state maritime regulation in the country,” Ericksen said. “It is legitimate for us to ask whether more rules would improve public safety. But we never ought to assume that from the start.”

Here are the central components of SB 5057:

  • 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.
  • Allows rail-crossing inspections to be done by certified inspectors employed by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.
  • Extends UTC jurisdiction to private rail crossings.
  • Establishes a workgroup to examine whether updates are required in state regulation of maritime transport of oil on the Columbia River and in Grays Harbor. The Department of Ecology would convene the workgroup, with representatives from the oil and rail industries, businesses that receive crude oil in bulk, Grays Harbor and Columbia River safety committees, maritime fire safety associations, the Coast Guard, Columbia River and Grays Harbor public ports and Columbia River pilots.