Port of Vancouver calls for stricter oil-train safety rules

By Aaron Corvin, April 28, 2015, The Columbian

Port of Vancouver commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution spelling out the port’s backing of new federal oil-train safety legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.


The two-page resolution says the port supports Cantwell’s recently proposed Crude-by-Rail Safety Act, including an immediate ban on the use of unsafe tank cars and the requirement that railroads prepare comprehensive oil spill response plans for large accidents and spills.


The port makes “safety our No. 1 goal,” said Commissioner Jerry Oliver, who, along with commissioners Nancy Baker and Brian Wolfe, voted “yes” on the resolution.


The resolution comes well more than a year after commissioners approved a lease, in 2013, to allow Tesoro Corp., a petroleum refiner, and Savage Companies, a transportation company, to build what would be the nation’s largest rail-to-marine oil transfer terminal at the port.


During Tuesday’s public meeting, opponents of the oil terminal said that while they had no objection to the port’s resolution it was coming long after public safety issues were initially raised.


Dan Serres, conservation director for Columbia Riverkeeper, said commissioners abdicated their authority to make safety a priority when they “signed off on a lease just after” the fire was being put out in Lac Megantic — a reference to the July 6, 2013, oil-train disaster in Quebec that killed 47 people and leveled part of the town. The port commission took its first unanimous vote to approve the lease on July 23, 2013.


Currently, the oil terminal proposed for the port is undergoing an environmental impact analysis by the Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. The evaluation council is expected to issue a draft impact analysis in July. The public would then have an opportunity to comment on it.


Eventually, the council will make a recommendation to Washington’s governor, who may approve or deny the project, or send it back to the council for more work. The outcome may be appealed to the state Supreme Court.


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