Democratic Rep. Sharon Wylie urged her colleagues in the House to take swift action on a measure strengthening safety requirements on oil transport.
“In my own community there is a proposal on the table to turn our community into the largest oil-storage terminal on the West Coast,” said Wylie, of Vancouver. “Right now, we have miles of train carrying oil within 100 feet of our houses, our businesses and our waterfront.”
House Bill 1449, which is backed by Gov. Jay Inslee, passed the House on a 60-38 vote Thursday evening.
Wylie’s testimony, however, did not persuade her Republican counterparts from Southwest Washington to favor the bill.
Republican Reps. Lynda Wilson, Paul Harris, Brandon Vick and Liz Pike all voted against the bill.
In an email to The Columbian, Wilson wrote, “there is a bill coming over from the Senate that we know addresses rail safety in a more equitable manner.”
She added her response was the “official response” from all the lawmakers in the region who voted against the measure.
The measure Wilson referred to is Senate Bill 5057, sponsored by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, which does not have the same disclosure requirements as the measure passed by the House.
Ericksen’s bill appears to be favored in the Republican-controlled Senate.
As passed by the House, Inslee’s measure would expand a tax on oil from 4 cents to 8 cents per 42-gallon barrel. The tax, dubbed the barrel tax or the oil spill administration tax, would also apply to pipelines. Currently there is only a tax on marine deliveries. House Bill 1449 would also boost transparency by requiring rail operators to submit information to the Department of Ecology about transfer times and content. Information about transfers would also be submitted to local first responders, such as fire departments, under Inslee’s measure.
Ericksen has called the governor’s measure overly broad. In addition to not requiring the disclosure of information about oil being transported through communities, Ericksen’s measure would only apply to oil shipped by rail. It doesn’t increase the oil spill administration tax, but would apply the current 4-cent tax levied on maritime oil deliveries to include rail.
“In the course of two years, oil train traffic in Washington has gone from shipping zero gallons of crude oil to well over 700 million gallons. And that number will just go up,” Inslee said in a statement after the measure passed. “We need the oil industry to step up with more robust safety and preparedness measures and make sure we have resources to respond in the event of an oil spill or explosion. The barrel tax is a modest increase — less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the current barrel prices — but ensures an exponentially larger degree of certainty that in the event of a spill or explosion we are ready to respond.”
Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, who was the chief sponsor of the House measure, pointed out that while lawmakers debated the bill there was yet another example of a train carrying crude oil that derailed and exploded.
The tankers “are burning this evening,” she said of the explosion in rural Illinois, and “first responders are still trying to contain this disaster.”