Findings confirm emergent risks to public health and safety
Seattle -- Gov. Jay Inslee today received a preliminary report identifying risks to public health, safety and the environment resulting from increasing marine and rail oil transportation in Washington state. The report, prepared by the state Department of Ecology in consultation with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission and other state and federal agencies, includes legislative and budget recommendations to improve safety of oil transport.
The 2014 Legislature mandated the study be done by March 1, 2015. But in June, Inslee issued a directive to speed up Ecology’s work, saying he wanted the recommendations by today. A completed interim report is due Dec. 1, 2014.
Inslee said today the report confirms the urgent need to bolster preparedness and response efforts against oil spills. That will require bold action from not just the state, but also from federal partners that regulate a majority of rail operations.
“Today, the health and safety of Washington’s residents are at risk,” Inslee said. “Oil trains are running through Washington every day that are outdated, inadequate and outright dangerous. This is unacceptable to me and I’m sure to every Washingtonian.”
Inslee and legislators called on Ecology and other agencies to undertake a detailed risk assessment in light of rapid changes in how crude oil is moving through rail corridors and over Washington waters, creating new safety and environmental risks.
While petroleum shipments from Alaska are declining, shipments of Canadian crude oil through Washington waters into British Columbia ports are increasing. Increasing amounts of oil from the Bakken region – including parts of Montana and North Dakota – are also being transported through Washington by rail, often in railcars not designed to transport Bakken crude. A report released earlier this week by the federal GAO shows Washington is one of four states with an increase of more than 10,000 carloads of oil and coal from 2007 to 2012.
In July, two railcars carrying 28,000 gallons of Bakken crude derailed in Seattle, though no one was injured and no oil was spilled. Explosions from derailed oil trains have happened in numerous other states, including a deadly explosion last July in Quebec.
Today’s report contains legislative and budget recommendations for the 2015-2017 biennium, such as funding for additional railroad inspectors and requirements for railroad operators to submit advance notice to the state on volume and characteristics of oil shipments by rail. The report also provides recommendations for emergency preparedness and response.
Inslee said the initial recommendations will help him develop a legislative package for the 2015 session.
At a press conference in Seattle today, Inslee also pushed the federal government to do more. The federal government regulates rail transport and is considering changes to oil train rules, including a possible two-year window for oil companies to update their rail cars.
Inslee said that’s too long to wait for action. Inslee sent a letter yesterday to Anthony Foxx, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, saying a one-year window should provide adequate time for railcar upgrades and that speed limits for oil trains should be lowered. Ecology, along with UTC, Department of Transportation and the Washington Military Department’s Emergency Management Division submitted comments to the federal DOT asking for similar changes.
“It’s important for the public to weigh in on these initial state recommendations,” Inslee said. “We must do everything we can to ensure the safety of our communities and make it clear that Washingtonians want safety to be the top priority in our cities and our state.”
Written comments on initial state recommendations can be submitted online or in person at two public meetings: one is scheduled in Spokane, Oct. 28, and the other in Olympia, Oct. 30.
Along with Ecology, contributing agencies include the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, Washington Military Department’s Emergency Management Division, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the State Department of Transportation.
- Jaime Smith
360-902-0617, Governor’s Office | 360.902.0617
- Lisa Copeland, Washington Department of Ecology | 360.407.6990
- Amanda Maxwell, Utilities and Transportation Commission | 360.664.1116
- Karina Shagren, Washington Emergency Management Division | 253.512.8222