Legislators move closer to enacting crude-by-rail regulations

A measure imposing stricter regulations for crude oil shipping on Grays Harbor and other Washington waterways is one step closer to passage, with legislators voting the bill out of the House Committee on Environment with a “do pass” recommendation Tuesday morning.

The bill addresses an expected increase in crude oil shipping statewide, and would give the state Department of Ecology the authority to enact new tug escort rules for oil tankers on Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay, the Columbia River and Puget Sound.

The measure would also add to reporting requirements for companies transporting oil by rail and call for a study of the state’s capacity to respond to oil train accidents.

“The landscape around oil transportation has changed dramatically, and it’s going to continue to change,” said bill sponsor Rep. Jessyn Farrell. “And I believe that the public really has the right to know what’s happening in our community with regard to oil transportation.”

The Seattle Democrat introduced House Bill 2347, which is supported by local Reps. Kevin Van De Wege and Steve Tharinger, both Sequim Democrats. Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, introduced companion Senate Bill 6262, which is supported by Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam.

The Senate measure hasn’t yet received a hearing, but Hargrove said there is considerable support for the House bill in his caucus.

Farrell’s bill did receive some criticism in the House committee. Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said the bill would give too much power to Ecology. She also said the measure is premature given that many crude-by-rail facilities are still in early stages.

She offered an amendment to the bill calling for a study from Ecology to determine whether stricter rules are necessary.

“I just hope that we would allow some work to take place by Ecology and they would come back with a report to the legislature so we can know what areas we need to tweak and whether or not we need to give them additional authority,” Short said.

Short also proposed an amendment to adopt oil transportation reporting requirements similar to California’s. Both amendments failed.

Before HB 2347 is enacted, House members must approve it in a floor vote.

The measure will then be sent to the Senate for consideration.

The Senate Energy, Environment &Telecommunications Committee held a hearing for another crude oil transportation measure Tuesday: Senate Joint Memorial 8015 introduced by Sen. O’Ban, a Pierce County Republican.

The Legislature doesn’t have the authority to regulate rail tank cars, so O’Ban’s measure calls on Congress to enact stricter regulations for the cars in light of recent crude oil explosions.

The measure asks that existing standards for new tank cars be increases, and that existing tank cars be retrofitted with new safety technology of phased out of service.

“This memorial has, as you would expect,, bipartisan support because we have, unfortunately, seen what can happen when these rail cars aren’t safe,” O’Ban said. “And there can be a huge loss of life, particularly when these cars are going through dense population areas.”

So far, 15 senators have signed on as cosponsors of the bill.

No one besides O’Ban testified at the hearing, but representatives from Ecology and the Burlington Norther Santa Fe Railway Company signed in as supporters of the measure.


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