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Published on Friday, January 16, 2015

Senate committee holds first hearing on oil trains

On Thursday, January 15, the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee held a Public hearing on SB 5057 relating to the safe transport of hazardous materials. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) who is chair of the committee. There was a full two hours of public testimony in a packed hearing room.

AWC staff testified on the bill discussing some of the more general concerns cities have about planning and responding to an incident involving an oil train derailment. The bill provides some funds for emergency response equipment, but no funds for the new planning efforts that would be required of local jurisdictions. We also noted the importance of sufficient resources and authority for the Utilities & Transportation Commission to inspect and enforce railroad crossing and equipment requirements. While beyond the scope of the bill, AWC staff also brought up safety and mobility concerns in regards to at-grade rail crossings within cities.

Councilmembers Jon Snyder of Spokane and Stacia Jenkins of Normandy Park also testified about specific concerns in their communities and requested additional protections in the bill.

Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) has also introduced Governor Inslee request legislation SB 5087, which closely follows the recommendations in the Department of Ecology Marine and Rail Oil Transport Study. This bill provides more authority and resources for the Department of Ecology and the Utilities & Transportation Commission to prevent and respond to oil transportation incidents. AWC has offered comments to the Governor that more resources be made available to local agencies who will be responsible for any initial emergency responses. SB 5087 has not yet been schedule for a hearing.

These bills are the beginning of a conversation that will likely continue throughout the legislative session. Cities can add value to the conversation by concretely explaining to your legislators the unique risks associated with oil transport in your community, how you are preparing, and what resources and assistance you need from the state to adequately protect your community.

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