Warner, Kaine introduce bill to protect communities from oil train accidents

congressToday, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine cosponsored legislation with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and others to better protect local communities by getting unsafe oil trains off the tracks. The legislation would provide firefighters and other first responders in local communities the resources they need if accidents occur, and provides a tax credit to incentivize the owners of older tanker cars to transition to newer, safer models.

“Today marks exactly one year since the day an oil train derailed in downtown Lynchburg while hauling heavy Bakken crude oil, spilling 20,000 gallons of oil into the James River and sparking a tremendous fire,” Sen. Warner said. “We were fortunate that no one was killed or injured in that April 30, 2014 derailment. But in Virginia, we now see near-daily crude oil trains traveling from one end of the Commonwealth to the other, often through some highly populated areas. It’s critical that we get outdated and risky tank cars off the tracks, ensure that rail cars are as safe as possible for the surrounding communities, and provide local first responders with the resources they need in the event of an accident.”

“This bill speeds up the phaseout of the oldest, least-armored oil tank cars by levying a fee on each car that will go toward paying for oil spill cleanup costs and training first responders in communities along major rail corridors,” said Sen. Kaine.  “One year after an oil train derailed in downtown Lynchburg – luckily not resulting in fatalities – this is a common-sense bill that pushes trains to get safer and helps communities be better prepared to deal with oil car incidents when they occur.”

The Hazardous Materials Rail Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2015 would reduce risks to communities near railroad tracks by speeding up the phase-out of older tank cars and encouraging companies to replace them with newer, safer cars. The bill also would place a $175 per shipment fee on older tank cars with widely known safety risks that are used to ship crude oil and other hazardous materials, and makes available a tax credit for companies that upgrade the newer cars to the highest required safety standard.

The bill would use the revenue raised by the fee to help communities and first responders be better prepared in the event of a rail accident. It would establish a dedicated fund for clean-up costs of oil train accidents, advanced training for first responders, and grant money for states and cities to reroute rail carrying large volumes of hazardous materials away from highly populated areas.

In addition to Warner, Kaine and Wyden, the bill was co-sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

Five accidents in the past four months – including fiery explosions of tank cars – in Iowa, Illinois, West Virginia and Ontario, Canada have added to the sense of urgency to address the safety of oil-by-rail transportation.

One week after the Lynchburg derailment, Sens. Warner and Kaine urged USDOT to issue regulations requiring the strongest possible tank cars, and to require railroads transporting Bakken crude oil to notify emergency response officials in the communities along the rail corridor. In addition, Sen. Warner convened more than 80 local, state and federal officials in Richmond in June 2014 to discuss ways to make transporting crude oil by rail safer. On February 20 of this year, Warner and Kaine urged federal regulators to move quickly to finalize and publish the USDOT proposed regulations. Last month, Sens. Warner and Kaine along with 19 other Senators called for robust investment for a Safe Transportation of Energy Products program to address increasing safety concerns related to the transportation of Bakken crude and other energy products.

Bill text is available here. A one-page summary is available here.

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