Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
DAMAGED Union Pacific oil train car is trucked away from town on June 8 during an anti-oil train rally at exit 69 in Mosier.
Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden introduced a bill last Wednesday that would compel federal regulators to investigate every major oil train derailment.
The bill came in response to the June 3 fiery derailment in Mosier.
The Mandate Oil Spill Inspections and Emergency Rules (MOSIER) Act calls on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to clarify the Federal Rail Administration’s authority to place moratoriums on oil train traffic after major wrecks, and would require the Department of Transportation to reduce the amount of volatile gases in the crude oil those trains have been hauling.
“As Oregon has seen firsthand, these oil trains are rolling explosion hazards,” Merkley said in a statement. “That’s unacceptable. We need long-term solutions that will keep communities safe. Every accident needs to be fully and independently investigated.”
The NTSB declined to launch a formal investigation into the Mosier derailment because there were no injuries or fatalities, and they deemed the wreck didn’t bring to light any new significant safety issues.
In a July 15 letter, the board replied that the agency “decided not to launch on the Mosier derailment due to limited resources and the current investigative workload in the Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations (RPH). This information indicated that the circumstances of this accident did not pose any new significant safety issues. The tank cars were breached in a manner similar to those that we have seen in other accident investigations. In addition, the derailment resulted in no injuries or fatalities.”
Merkley argued the Federal Rail Administration should have the power to enforce moratoriums until identified problems are fully resolved, and that the more volatile type of crude known as Bakken needs to be “stabilized before it rolls through our communities.”
“Oregonians deserve the strongest possible protections from oil train derailments,” Wyden said. “This bill ensures that federal authorities can stop trains after a major derailment until a thorough investigation has been completed, and that the NTSB has ample resources to closely examine the root causes of such a crash.”
The proposed Act would:
- Require the NTSB to investigate every major oil train derailment and provide resources to hire additional investigators.
- Clarify the Federal Rail Administration’s authority to put a moratorium on unit oil trains following an accident to allow for investigations to be completed and safety recommendations to be implemented.
- Requires the Department of Transportation to establish and enforce a standard that reduces the amount of volatile gases in crude oil.
The MOSIER Act would supplement a 2015 rail safety bill, Hazardous Materials Rail Transportation Safety Improvement Act, which seeks to establish a fee on outdated tanker cars in order to get them off the tracks faster. Funds from the fee would pay for cleanup costs associated with railroad accidents, railroad staff cost, and training local first responders.
Merkley and Wyden were among 12 policymakers who signed that bill.