Friday, March 27, 2015

Democratic senators pushing legislation to expand forthcoming crude oil train regulations

Four Democratic senators on Wednesday made a push for legislation that would require the U.S. Department of Transportation "to regulate the volatility of oil being moved in trains, a proposal that goes beyond plans to focus on the design of tank cars," Timothy Cama and Keith Laing report for The Hill. "The bill faces strong industry opposition, and oil, ethanol and freight rail interests have been meeting with White House officials in an effort to dial back the DOT’s upcoming regulations."

More oil was spilled from trains in the U.S. in 2013 than in the previous 37 years, and 47 people in Quebec died from the derailment of a train running from North Dakota to Maine. There has also been a recent rash of derailments, which led Canada to propose rules to toughen tank-car standards. DOT in October 2014 proposed a two-year phase-out of older tank cars, but the oil and rail industries said that wasn't enough time."

In addition to "beefing up design standards for tanker cars, regulators want to phase out older cars in two years, enhance braking systems and reduce rollovers and impose new speed limits in urban areas," Cama and Laing write. But Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), "the top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the Obama administration should go further. She disputed assertions that the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) lacks the legal authority to regulate the volatility of crude oil."

"Cantwell’s bill, backed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) would require PHMSA to regulate the content of gases like butane, propane, methane and ethane in crude oil extracted from the Bakken region of North Dakota, the center of the recent boom," Cama and Laing write. "Those gases’ contents add to their volatility, which determines how easily the oil will explode when a tank car is breached. Environmentalists say Bakken crude is more volatile than oil from elsewhere." (Read more)

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