Dems to Obama: Use Powers to Crack Down on Oil Rail Transportation

Wisconsin Democrats are urging President Obama to explore using his executive authority to take "immediate" action against "dangerous" trains transporting oil from hugely successful production areas in North Dakota.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) noted that the Obama administration missed a Jan. 15 deadline to release final Department of Transportation and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration rules on oil train accidents.

"We write to you today with deep concerns about the risk that trains carrying crude oil continue to pose to our constituents.  Oil train accidents are increasing at an alarming rate as a result of the increased oil production from the Bakken formation in North Dakota. Congress has provided additional funding to study safer tank cars, hire more track inspectors, and repair rail infrastructure. We urge your Administration to use this funding, along with its regulatory powers, to improve oil train safety as quickly as possible," Baldwin and Kind wrote to Obama today.

"...It is time for you to take immediate action and we request that your Administration issue final rules without further delay. We believe that recent accidents make clear the need for rules stronger than those originally proposed."

Baldwin and Kind said that the primary risk is crumbling rail infrastructure, including not enough Federal Railroad Administration inspections and old bridges.

"The danger facing Wisconsin communities located near rail lanes has materialized quickly. Just a few years ago, an oil train in the state was a rare sight. Today, more than 40 oil trains a week pass through Wisconsin cities and towns, many more than 100 tank cars long," the lawmakers wrote. "It is clear that the increase in oil moving on the rails has corresponded with an uptick in oil train derailments. In addition to the derailment in Illinois on Thursday March 5, 2015, there have been derailments in North Dakota, Virginia, Alabama, West Virginia, and a fatal explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec."

"These catastrophes have illuminated the many areas ripe for improvement, as well as additional measures needed to be taken in order to ensure safety when transporting crude oil by train."

They want new regulations for the stabilization of oil to make crude "less likely to ignite," new safety requirements for tank cars, new speed limits for oil trains, and "increased transparency" about oil shipments as "it is also important that our communities are aware of what is being shipped in their backyard."

Supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline have noted the need for a comprehensive energy infrastructure that involves rail and roads, though Baldwin voted against the pipeline in January.

Baldwin sought amendments requiring that tar sands producers pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, and guarantees that American consumers get the Keystone oil before foreign export markets.

“Working with Canada we can achieve true North American energy security and also help our allies,” sponsor Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said then. “For us to continue to produce more energy and compete in the global market we need more pipelines to move crude at the lowest cost and in the safest and most environmentally friendly way. That means that pipelines like the Keystone XL are in the vital national interest of our country."