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Oregon House OKs oil train fees to fund spill planning

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon House of Representatives Monday passed a bill that would create new fees on oil train cars to pay for spill prevention and planning in the state.

The House passed House Bill 2209 on a 55-3 vote, according to a report by The Oregonian/OregonLive, sending it to the state Senate for consideration.

Along with the fees, which would go to the state fire marshal and the state Department of Environmental Quality, the bill would require train operators to carry more insurance when operating the trains, to help pay for spill cleanup.

The fees, which would go into effect Jan. 1, 2020, would raise about $1 million every two years before expiring in 2027.

The bill also requires railroads to carry enough insurance to pay to clean up a worst-case spill, defined as 15 percent of a train's load -- less than spilled in the worst spill to date.

A runaway oil train derailed in July 2013 in Lac Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and spilling oil from 63 of its 72 tank cars. The crash released 75 percent of the 2 million gallons of oil the train carried. In 2016, a Union Pacific train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in Mosier, Oregon, near the Columbia River. Sixteen cars derailed, with three catching fire and four discharging oil, provoking an interstate response and the evacuation of 147 residents.

State Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, led earlier efforts to adopt planning standards like those in other West Coast states. Citing the Mosier derailment, Smith Warner called future spills inevitable and said the state needs to be prepared.

"It will make our communities safer," Smith Warner said of the bill. "I wish it hadn't taken so long, but I'm proud of the result."

Union Pacific did not respond to a request for comment from The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Federal figures list the Mosier derailment as releasing 47,000 gallons of oil, with 16,000 gallons burned or vaporized and 18,000 gallons absorbed by soil in the area.

Mile-long crude oil trains began to travel across Oregon in 2012, turning railroad tracks on both sides of the Columbia River Gorge into a passageway for oil between North Dakota oil fields and refineries in Washington and California.

The phenomenon introduced the risks of catastrophic spills into areas of the state where oil had never before moved in such volumes. Today, swaths of the state's rail lines have no plans for how to respond to a catastrophic oil spill.

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News release from Oregon House Democrats:

Safer Transport of Oil by Rail Legislation Clears the Oregon House

Bill requires safety and response plans for worst case scenarios

SALEM – Legislation years in the making to improve the safety of trains transporting oil through Oregon passed the Oregon House of Representatives today. 

The legislation, House Bill 2209, requires railroads that own or operate "high hazard train routes" to develop detailed safety and environmental response plans and demonstrate the ability to respond to and cover the cost of an oil spill. It also authorizes a fee on the railroads to support the state's efforts to respond in the event of a train derailment or spill.

Rep. Barbara Smith Warner (D-Portland) has been a leading champion in efforts to improve oil train safety since joining the legislature in 2014. Incidents in recent years, including a 2016 oil train derailment near Mosier, Ore., have brought additional attention to the issue.

"It has been an eye-opening experience to work on this issue, especially in a post-Mosier world where we know firsthand the dangers of an oil train derailment, and how lucky we were the first time around," Rep. Smith Warner said. "While there are a lot of restrictions on what states can accomplish due to the relevant federal regulations, I believe HB 2209 encompasses all that we are permitted to do to reclaim some safety and peace of mind for Oregonians. I wish it hadn't taken so long, but I am proud of the final result." 

This session, Rep. Paul Evans, the chair of the House Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness, led a workgroup process with Rep. John Lively (D-Springfield), Rep. Rick Lewis (R-Silverton) and Rep. Mark Meek (D-Oregon City) to finalize legislation.  

"This bill gets us where we need to be today; it is an instrument for moving toward a better, more prepared tomorrow," Rep. Evans said. "It is paid for by the users of our railways; it is aligned with benchmark safety and security protocols; and it is the beginning, rather than the end, of the conversation about making our railways – even more sustainable over time." 

The legislation, which passed 56 to 3, now goes to the Oregon Senate for consideration. 


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