OLYMPIA – Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County, and Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip said Wednesday’s changes to oil transportation safety standards by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) are important first steps in protecting Washington’s communities.
“The enormous increase of oil through Washington, particularly the dangerous Bakken oil, is not a theoretical threat,” Rolfes said. “We cannot further risk a scene in Spokane, Bellingham or Seattle like there was in Virginia last week, or Quebec last summer.”
The U.S. DOT echoed these concerns in a safety alert issued on Wednesday, calling the hazardous Bakken oil shipments in North America an “imminent hazard.” Unfortunately, their encouragement of companies to retrofit or replace the outdated rail cars (DOT-111) is nonbinding.
More promising is the emergency order the DOT released the same day, as it carries more enforcement weight and includes some key community right to know provisions that Rolfes, McCoy and other state lawmakers tried to get through the state Senate this session.
“I am pleased federal officials are now moving to provide reasonable and overdue safeguards. These are the type of protections the Senate Republicans chose to kill last session,” said McCoy. “We are starting to see signs of progress, but many safety gaps remain.”
Rolfes sent a letter on Monday to DOT Administrators, urging concrete action on the replacement or retrofitting of dangerously inadequate rail cars. It was co-signed by a bipartisan group of fourteen Washington State lawmakers, and urges expeditious adoption of regulations to these rail cars that are at the center of recent spills and explosions in North America.
Wednesday’s order only applies to large shipments of oil coming from the Bakken region.
“Strong language about communities’ rights to know by the federal government is important, particularly for emergency planning,” Rolfes added. “But tanks on trains going through our communities that leak or cannot withstand derailment is unacceptable. This is really only the first mile of a marathon.”