In the first week of the 2015 legislative session, Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County, and Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, introduced Governor Jay Inslee’s request oil transportation legislation to the state Senate (SB 5087).
“Unprecedented amounts of oil are traveling along the rails of Washington state, through our rural areas and downtowns and along our coastlines,” Rolfes said. “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.”
How to address increasing oil transportation has been an ongoing debate in Washington and across North America in recent years. North Dakota and the Bakken region of Canada are experiencing an oil boom, and spills and explosions have followed as a result of substandard rail cars and flagging regulation and industry oversight. Roughly sixty-million gallons of volatile crude oil passes through Washington every week, and over a million gallons of crude oil was spilled from trains in North America in 2013, more than the previous 30 years combined. Numerous explosions also occurred, including the explosion in Quebec that killed 47 people.
“For the safety and health of our communities, it’s imperative we give first responders all the information they need to best prepare themselves to respond and contain a spill or derailment to prevent a worst case scenario,” Ranker said. “We will not sit idly by and let a city in Washington join the list of those devastated by an oil train fire or vessel spill.”
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. A study was conducted in 2014 to evaluate the risks associated with the vast increase of oil transported by rail through Washington, with many of the recommendations included in this bill. The final report is due in March.
“Transparency and safety need to be the focus of our efforts here in Olympia,” Energy, Environment & Telecommunications committee ranking Democrat Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, said. “We can’t put the interests of the oil industry over the safety of our impacted communities.”
“This is not a theoretical problem. We know derailments and oil spills will happen,” Rolfes added. “For the safety of our communities and economy, as well as the preservation of our environment, we need to pass this bill.”
The bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.