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KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

Inslee Calls For Safer, Slower Oil Trains

AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File
This Nov. 6, 2013 file photo shows a warning placard on a tank car carrying crude oil near a loading terminal in Trenton, N.D.

“Sobering” is how Washington Governor Jay Inslee summed up a draft report about the risks of increased oil transport through the state.  In the report, the State Department of Ecology describes an unprecedented growth in this local transport, from virtually no trains carrying crude oil in 2011 to 714 million gallons in 2013.The report also details a cascade of risks associated with oil by rail, including risks to public health, public safety and the environment.

At a press conference in Seattle Wednesday, Inslee stressed more needs to be done to prevent a major spill or a tragic train derailment.

“When these things go — I don’t want to use the term 'bomb,' but I don’t know what is a better metaphor,” Inslee said.

The metaphor holds, as you see in this YouTube video shot in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic.

Local blogger François Rodrigue describes the inferno caused by an oil train explosion last year.  “We couldn’t get too close because there was a lot of heat,” Rodrigue says in the video.

The blast killed 47 people.

“This shouldn’t be too difficult for legislators to understand that we don’t intend to allow this risk to continue, of oil blowing up in railroads next to Qwest Field and Safeco Field,” Inslee said.

The report recommends that state lawmakers add funds for a host of changes, including more train inspectors with added authority to check private shipper’s property, as well as more oil spill response plans, equipment and training.

The recommendations add up to more than $13 million for the next two-year budget.  Inslee says the report will help guide his legislative proposal for the 2015 session.

Beyond that, Inslee noted the federal government regulates rail transport, and he’s called for the feds to lower the speed limits for oil trains and to move faster on required upgrades for old railcars.  

Rebecca Ponzio, Puget Sound policy specialist with the Washington Environment Council, a statewide advocacy group, cited a few areas where the report recommendations fall short.

“The recommendations should more specifically identify actions needed to address the unique risks related to the different types of crude oil coming through our state," Pozio said. “For example, tar sands is already traveling through the region, which presents different risks and challenges than Bakken crude. Dealing with this appears to be a gap.”

Ponzio also wants to see strong discloser requirements about type, volume and route of oil traveling through Washington state.

The public will have a chance to weigh in on these recommendations online and at meetings later this month in Spokane and Olympia.

Year started with KUOW: 2006