Legislature's oil train bills have yet to track together

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A train carrying a class 3 flammable liquid (the category that crude oil falls into) passes a rail crossing on Lander Street in Sodo.

The Washington House passed an oil transportation safety bill 58-40 Tuesday with seven Republicans crossing party lines to support the greatly modified Senate bill.

But all that does is send the significant Republican and Democratic differences on oil transportation safety to a negotiating table.

In Tuesday’s action, the Democratic-controlled House took a bill by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, that passed the Senate along caucus lines, and changed it to resemble a bill by Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, which the House had earlier passed. Meanwhile, the Senate GOP has already changed Farrell's bill to resemble Ericksen's original bill. That revised bill awaits a full floor vote in the Senate.

Essentially, the Democratic legislation covers oil trains plus a long list of other oil-transportation safety matters — including spill-related emergency training and responses, tugboat regulations for oil shipped in Washington’s waters, information about oil trains to be provided to the public and emergency agencies, and an oil-tax hike from the current 4 cents to 8 cents per 42-gallon barrel.

The Democrats also want to tax oil shipped by pipelines, while Republicans oppose that idea. And Democrats want railroads to prove they have worst-case-scenario emergency plans in place, along with money set aside to pay for cleanup measures. Senate Republicans support similar railroad requirements, but not to the extent sought by Democrats.

Republicans had wanted to limit the legislation to oil moved by rail, but both Democrats and Republicans have agreed to call for a study and training work on the safety of marine transportation of oil. Republicans also oppose increasing the per-barrel tax. They also call for money for training and planning by state and local emergency agencies.

A previous split over the public notification provisions for oil-train movements appears on the way to being ironed out.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8