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Oregon passes bill requiring oil trains to develop spill response plans

The legislation comes four years after Washington and California passed laws requiring better preparation for derailments and spills.

Scattered oil tank cars after a train derailed and burned near Mosier in the Columbia River Gorge in 2016. (Image: Washington State Department of Ecology)

The Oregon Legislature on Saturday (June 29) approved a bill requiring railroads transporting large amounts of crude oil through Oregon to develop spill response plans and submit them to the Department of Environmental Quality for review and approval.

The bill was one of the first passed by the Oregon Senate since June 20, when Republicans orchestrated a walkout in response to a controversial greenhouse gas emissions bill. All but three Republican Senators returned to the Capitol this weekend.

House Bill 2209 requires railroads owning or operating routes for trains carrying highly hazardous materials to have oil spill contingency plans that have been approved by Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality.

The state will be able to charge up to $20 on each oil tank car entering Oregon or loaded in the state, plus a small annual fee on railroads’ gross operating revenues in Oregon.

The Oregon legislation comes four years after Washington and California passed laws to better prepare for derailments and spills and one month after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that requires Washington refineries and other facilities that offload or load crude oil from a rail car to meet safer vapor pressure standards.

Since 2012, trains carrying three million gallons of crude oil each have been traveling across Oregon to terminals and refineries in the Northwest and California.

In June 2016 a Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) train derailed near the Gorge town of Mosier, Oregon spilling 42,000 gallons of oil and starting a fire that took over 14 hours to put out.

BNSF (NYSE: BRK) and Union Pacific could not immediately be reached for comment. But a spokesperson told FreightWaves in May that said that the bill’s passage would make it harder for the railroad to comply with the common carrier obligation, a federal mandate requiring a railroad to provide transportation to all parties and for all goods, including hazardous materials.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has five days to take action after the oil train bill is sent to her office. She is expected to sign the bill.

Linda Baker, Senior Environment and Technology Reporter

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves senior reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes autonomous vehicles, the startup scene, clean trucking, and emissions regulations. Please send tips and story ideas to [email protected]