Cantwell Presses Secretary Foxx on Oil Train Safety, Crude Oil Volatility, Demands More Progress

Cantwell: "We can't have a Lac-Megantic in our state"

WASHINGTON, D.C.  - Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) questioned Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on how the Department of Transportation (DOT) is improving oil train safety to protect communities along rail lines following a dangerous derailment in Oregon last week.

"We can't have this product shipping through tunnels in Seattle with our light rail transportation system, we can't have it next to hotels in Vancouver and we can't have it going through neighborhoods of thousands of people in Spokane - we can't have a Lac-Megantic in our state."

Cantwell also demanded more progress on the issue including having the DOT create an interim rule lowering the volatility of crude oil while they continue to study the issue. She suggested the Department move quickly to set volatility rules, arguing that leaving the limits up to rail companies puts Washingtonians at risk. Currently, DOT regulates the volatility of propane and natural gas transported by pipeline, but not crude oil transported by rail - despite the fact that crude oil by rail also passes through communities and urban centers. As it currently stands, the rule-making process will not begin until 2017 at the earliest.

"While we are improving the rail safety and while we are improving the tank cars, we also have to improve and lower the volatility of this explosive product," said Senator Cantwell. "Why are we letting these trains just continue to move as an explosive product through our community?"

Foxx expressed his concern for oil train safety and agreed to quickly look into Cantwell's request.

"I will certainly take your recommendation back to our staff and provide you with a formal response from the department. I'm taking any and all suggestions about how to deal with this going forward" said Foxx.

On June 3rd, a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed and burst into flame less than a half-mile from Mosier, Oregon. The accident forced the evacuation of local schools and leaked unknown amounts of oil into waterways.

In 2014, 988 oil-laden trains traveled through Washington state. If proposed facilities are fully built out and the export of oil continues, 7,124 such trains could move through the state annually by 2020.

Cantwell has sounded the alarm on the dangers of oil trains early and often. In an effort to put the safety of the public and the environment ahead above oil companies' bottom lines, she has raised the issue with the Obama administration, urged the Department of Transportation to adopt more rigorous safety regulations, and pressed energy industry leaders to hold their companies to higher standards.

In 2015, she introduced the Crude-By-Rail-Safety Act. The legislation would, among other safety measures, immediately halt the use of older-model tanks cars that have been shown to be at high risk for puncturing and catching fire.