WASHINGTON – Sen. Maria Cantwell and other lawmakers took aim at federal regulators on Thursday for failing to provide a timeline for new regulations on railcars that carry crude oil across the Inland Northwest.
U.S. Department of Transportation officials declined to say when new regulations requiring the replacement of below-standard railcars would be in place, while industry officials touted a decrease in collisions over the last 10 years.
Cantwell, using a large map of Washington, traced the route of oil trains through Spokane and west to the Puget Sound area while calling for more stringent regulations on railcars deemed unsafe by federal regulators.
“You hit every population area in our state,” Cantwell told the Senate Transportation Committee. “When people look at this issue for us, they see the volatility of this product moving through major population centers.”
A spokesperson for the American Petroleum Institute said there has not been a major push within the industry to remove the troubled tank cars despite safety concerns surrounding the railcars.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., urged federal regulators to speed up the rule-making process, which has been ongoing since 2012.
Cynthia Quarterman, head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, begged to differ, calling the process the fastest-moving she has ever seen.
Since the beginning of the rule-making process, however, there have been two high-profile incidents involving the transportation of crude oil by rail. Last year, a derailment in Quebec killed 42 people and another in North Dakota prompted an evacuation of a nearby town.
Quarterman said Thursday the current approach to rail safety is working despite challenges that have arisen alongside increased oil production.
More than 400,000 barrels of oil were produced daily in the Bakken shale last fall, compared with 81,000 daily in 2003.