Wash. House passes bill to improve safety of oil transport

Associated Press

March 6, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash.  The Washington state House passed a bill Thursday night to strengthen safety regulations as increasing numbers of oil trains move through the state.

The measure, which drew bipartisan support in a 60-38 vote, requires advance notice of oil transfers, allows for the possibility of tug escorts for oil barges and requires railroads and others to show they can pay for oil spill cleanup. It would increase a barrel tax collected on oil that comes to the state by train from 4 cents to 8 cents per 42 gallons, with the proceeds going to an oil-spill response fund, and extend the tax to pipelines.

"We know that while on the one hand we want the commerce, and all of us in this body are consumers of petroleum products, we want that to be safe, and we want our communities to be safe," said Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, the bill's lead sponsor.

Her bill is likely to meet resistance in the Senate, where a competing bill sponsored by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, is awaiting a floor vote. The Senate bill doesn't include a public disclosure requirement as the House bill does. It also addresses only oil movement by rail, not on water.

In House debate before the measure passed, Republican critics said the bill was overly broad.

"I don't want us to get ourselves in a place where we actually, as a result of this bill, get ourselves in a lawsuit," said Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley.

Farrell and several other Democratic supporters of the bill cited recent oil-train accidents, from a 2013 derailment and explosion in Quebec in which 47 people died to a derailment and fire in Galena, Ill., earlier Thursday.

"They are burning this evening, and first responders are trying to contain that disaster," Farrell said.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said he was especially conscious of the potential harm of an oil train disaster after a derailment last July 24 in his densely populated district. There were no casualties in that derailment, in which five cars of a train carrying nearly 100 cars of oil left the tracks beneath Seattle's Magnolia Bridge.

"If an explosion had happened of the magnitude that we saw in Quebec, the devastation would have been extraordinary," Carlyle said.