Politics Blog

Ericksen, Ranker introduce dueling oil transportation safety bills

Two legislators who represent parts of Whatcom County have introduced dueling oil transportation safety bills in the Senate.

Wasting no time, Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, introduced his bill the first day of the session.

As chair of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, he will host a public hearing on the bill tomorrow, Thursday, Jan. 15 at 1:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Jan. 14, Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, along with Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County, introduced oil legislation requested by Gov. Jay Inslee. That bill has also been referred to Ericksen’s committee.

In an evening press release Wednesday, Ericksen said his bill is the only one that focuses in on oil train safety.

“This is the oil-train bill that deals with oil trains,” Ericksen said. “I think 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 release outlines measures his bill would implement:

“•  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.”

“There are some solid, legitimate concerns about the safety of oil transportation by rail,” Ericksen continues in the news release. “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.”

The Senate Democrats also addressed federal and state responsibilities in a press release about the Governor’s bill:

“Although the federal government alone has the authority to impose many safety measures, states do have control over some key aspects related to transparency, accountability and taxation.”

Their bill, which among other things would also extend the oil-spill tax to crude oil delivered by pipelines, was drafted to address recommendations from the Department of Ecology’s 2014 Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study, which analyzed the risks of oil transportation throughout the state. The final draft of that study is due in March.

“Unprecedented amounts of oil are traveling along the rails of Washington state, through our rural areas and downtowns and along our coastlines,” Rolfes said in the release. “Right now, it is impacted communities and the taxpayers of Washington who bear all of the risk and responsibility in the event of an accident. This legislation simply shifts some of the burden of spill prevention and response onto those that profit from oil transportation.”

The release included a graphic comparing the two bills, claiming that Ericksen’s bill does not require a handful of things the bill requested by Inslee does.

Among the differences the graphic highlights:

“(5087- Ranker, Rolfes, others) Requires disclosure of basic info - how much oil, what type, and where it is being shipped. (5057- Ericksen) No disclosure requirement on oil transported through impacted communities.”

“(5087) Requires industry to take responsibility for a share of oil spill prevention and response planning. SB 5057 does not require industry to prepare spill response plans.”

“(5087) Enhances safety requirements for oil tankers moving through Puget Sound, the Columbia River, and the outer coast. SB 5057 does not include any safety enhancements for oil tankers in the state’s waters.”

Look for more on the differences between the bills here on the blog soon.