Olympia — State lawmakers gave final approval Friday to a bill meant to increase oil train safety.
The bill was taken up in response to the uptick in oil train traffic in the region. It directs oil taxes to help pay for oil-train spill response. It also imposes public disclosure requirements for railroad companies operating in Washington.
The bill was introduced by Gov. Jay Inslee and three dozen of his fellow Democrats in the House, where their party holds the majority. But by the time it was unanimously approved by the Republican-controlled Senate Friday evening, the bill had undergone many changes.
Funding and requirements for enhanced marine spill response, including an extra rescue tug to be stationed in the eastern part of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, were stripped from the bill.
“We got to ‘yes’ on the safety features in the bill and how we pay for them, but we’re going to have to come back and recommit to how we’re paying for the marine side and that is a real true critique of what we got to today,” said Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Kenmore, who sponsored of the bill.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, said it took compromise to industry-minded lawmakers, too.
“It might not be what everyone wants in every situation but it definitely is the higher majority of a very good idea that’s going to make the people of Washington safer when it comes to crude by rail,” Ericksen said on the Senate floor before the final vote.
Language was stripped from the bill that would have required additional train workers at the rear of oil trains more than 50 cars in length.
The version that passed Friday requires railroads to regularly notify state emergency responders as to the type and quantity of oil arriving by rail, as well as the route of the trains. Oil that arrives by pipeline will be subject to similar notification requirements.
The bill extends to oil hauled by rail the nickel-per-barrel tax currently levied on oil that arrives by ship in Puget Sound. It’s expected to generate roughly $4 million to pay for spill prevention, planning and response.
BNSF Railway transports most of the oil that’s moved along the rails in Washington. The company did not immediately offer a comment.
The Washington Environment Council issued a press release that said the oil industry was responsible for weakening the original legislation.
“While this bill contains some important steps forward in terms of transparency and public disclosure, it leaves huge holes in the safety net needed to protect our communities and waterways from risks we face today,” said Becky Kelley, president of Washington Environmental Council.
The Legislature heads into special session next week to work on the state’s two-year operating budget.