Citing new safety and environmental risks as more crude oil moves by train through Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday directed state agencies to evaluate the safety of oil transport in the state.
The governor’s directive comes as a Senate panel is preparing for a hearing in Spokane on oil transportation safety and railroad companies are reporting to the state on the amount of oil being shipped through Washington.
The directive would effectively speed up the timeline for a study already being conducted by state agencies, Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said.
The Department of Ecology is leading a study to analyze safety and environmental impacts of oil transport, after receiving $300,000 from the Legislature earlier this year.
The directive asks Ecology and other agencies to look at the risk of accidents along rail lines, assess the relative risk of Bakken crude oil compared to other forms of crude oil, and begin developing oil-spill response plans for affected counties. Ecology will submit budget recommendations and initial findings by Oct. 1.
The governor’s order re-emphasizes the issue, Ecology spokeswoman Lisa Copeland said. “Nothing in the directive is new for us,” she said.
The Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee will discuss possible legislation on oil transportation safety at a hearing Tuesday morning at 10:30 in the Spokane City Council Chambers. Democrats and Republicans introduced different plans for monitoring oil shipments and protecting communities in the latest session but couldn’t reconcile them.
Tuesday’s hearing involves a Senate Republican proposal to complete studies and develop emergency response plans. Democrats, however, say it doesn’t give cities and towns enough information about the number of shipments coming through their communities.
Last week the federal government ordered railroad companies to provide states with information about their crude oil shipments. BNSF Railway, Tacoma Rail and the Portland and Western submitted their information; Union Pacific said its shipments don’t meet the reporting threshold.
Information in those reports is not immediately available to the public. The railroads can go to court in an effort to block its release under the state’s Public Records Act.