Senate Democrats have proposed federal legislation to strengthen safety standards for trains that carry volatile shipments of crude oil.
WASHINGTON — Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., introduced legislation Wednesday, after a recent series of fiery train derailments, that would immediately ban the least sturdy tank cars from carrying crude oil.
The bill also would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to regulate the volatility of crude oil transported by rail, particularly oil extracted from shale formations in North Dakota’s Bakken region.
Cantwell’s bill follows four derailments in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario that have drawn new scrutiny to the large volumes of oil moving by rail across North America.
The White House Office of Management and Budget is reviewing new regulations intended to address the safety concerns, but Cantwell told reporters Wednesday that the changes couldn’t wait.
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“We know that we need to move on this legislation now,” she said. “Derailments keep happening, and we need to take responsibility to ensure that our communities are safer.”
Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Dianne Feinstein of California, all Democrats, are co-sponsoring Cantwell’s bill.
In addition to addressing tank cars and volatility, the legislation also would increase penalties for rail and energy companies that don’t meet federal safety requirements.
The bill would authorize funding to train emergency responders and require railroads to provide more information about oil shipments to state and local emergency officials. It also would require railroads to have comprehensive oil-spill response plans.
The measure aims to remove from crude-oil service the kinds of tank cars that have proved vulnerable to punctures and fire exposure in derailments over the past two years.
Those include the older DOT-111 cars like those involved in a July 2013 derailment in Quebec that killed 47 people, as well as newer, industry-designed CPC-1232 cars like those in the most recent four derailments.
All lack thermal insulation and outer jackets to better protect the cars in derailments, and Cantwell’s bill would require tank cars carrying oil to have those features.
“There are a bunch of tank cars that are unacceptable now,” she said. “So we’re saying get them off the rails, now.”
Cantwell noted that the rail industry asked the Transportation Department for an improved tank-car design four years ago and that her bill would help give the industry some certainty.
“I’m willing to tell them right now: Here’s the standard that I think should be set,” she said.