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Oil Train Safety Rules Challenged by Groups from Oregon to New York

The Columbia River Gorge is known for its scenic views and world-class windsurfing, but it is increasingly becoming a corridor for crude oil shipments by rail. Credit: Wikipedia.
The Columbia River Gorge is known for its scenic views and world-class windsurfing, but it is increasingly becoming a corridor for crude oil shipments by rail. Credit: Wikipedia.
June 9, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. – New federal rules proposed for oil train safety don't do enough to ensure emergency responders know when trains are coming through their area – or what cargo is on them.

That's the premise of an administrative appeal to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), filed by a coalition of organizations representing the health of the Columbia River all the way to New York's Hudson River.

The coalition is asking the DOT to keep previous notifications in place, which they say were weakened in the final rules. Michael Lang, conservation director with Friends of the Columbia Gorge, says the goal may have been to thwart terrorists, but the result could make it harder to get information in case of an emergency.

"They significantly weakened the requirement to notify emergency responders who protect our communities," he says. "That wasn't even an option in the draft rule. We're asking the Department of Transportation to correct the error by reopening the process and allowing public comment."

The DOT says its new rules include notification of local government agencies for what it terms "large volumes of flammable liquids." Rail companies have said releasing additional route and cargo details could compromise national security, and let competitors know too much about their business.

Lang says if the Tesoro Savage terminal in Vancouver, Washington, is approved, it would be the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the United States. He says communities in the Columbia Gorge need to plan ahead.

"All of the oil that would go to that terminal, and all the other refineries and terminals in the Northwest, goes right through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area," he says. "We don't think that's right. We don't think these communities should be placed at risk."

The lawfirm Earthjustice is representing the dozen organizations in the latest in a long line of challenges to new oil tank-car safety rules announced in May.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR