Tank-car rulemaking deadline part of THUD bill
On Thursday, the FY 2015 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee with the inclusion of a deadline for a final rulemaking on rail tank car standards.
The bill tasks the Department of Transportation with developing a final rule on tank car standards by Oct. 1. The bill passed the committee by a vote of 29-1, and it now heads to the full Senate.
For overall funding, the bill calls for an $71.7 billion budget for DOT, $18.1 billion of which is discretionary. The 2014 bill allowed $17.7 billion in discretionary funds. The TIGER grant program will receive $550 million, which is $50 million below the 2014 level and far below the $9.5 billion in grant requests for 2014. The federal-aid highway program will stay at the 2014 funding level, $40.3 billion, and the Federal Aviation Administration is to receive $15.9 billion, an increase of $126 million compared to last year.
The industry has been waiting on a rule on tank-car design for some time. The DOT issued a pair of emergency orders last month regarding crude. The first required railroads operating any trains carrying more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude to notify state officials if they are planning to bring the cargo into their state. The other notice urged Bakken shippers to use the safest tank-car designs available, but gave no indication of a pending rulemaking.
In a May 8 post on the DOT’s Fastlane blog, DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx said he had sent a “comprehensive rulemaking package” to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
In addition to mandating a rule on tank-car standards, the bill calls for a “comprehensive plan” developed by carriers to be put into action during an oil spill. It also includes funding for new rail safety and hazardous materials inspectors, an expansion of automated track inspections and a Short Line Railroad Safety Institute.
“In Washington state and across the country, the rapid increase in transportation of crude oil by rail presents us with new and challenging safety concerns,” Sen. Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Subcommittee, said in a statement. “We all need to recognize that these trains are already moving in states across the country, including Washington, and that there are steps we can take now to make our communities safer.”
Murray also called for officials to develop online training programs for hazardous waste response geared at local governments and other agencies, and additional research into liquefied natural gas tank car standards, tank-car retrofits, accident analysis and Bakken crude’s volatility as compared to other types of sweet crude. The report found that Bakken crude characteristics are all within DOT III railcar specifications and that Bakken crude is properly categorized as a Hazard Class 3 Flammable Liquid that belongs in Packing Group I or II.
In May, the North Dakota Petroleum Council reported that despite what the DOT has said in the past, Bakken crude transported by rail doesn’t present any more of a danger than any other type of crude oil.
Murray chaired an April hearing to look into the increase in crude rail transportation and the number of recent accidents involving the derailment of trains carrying crude oil. With 17 million barrels of crude passing through Washington State in 2013, and 55 million barrels expected to traverse the state in 2014, the subject is close to Murray’s heart. She noted in the hear that as recent as 2011, there was virtually no oil-by-rail transport in Washington.
“Federal oversight must adapt to these rapid changes in domestic energy production,” she said at the time. “We need to have the right policies in place to prevent accidents and respond to emergencies when they do happen. And these policies need to address the safety of the entire supply chain, from the point of well production to the refinery, and during every movement in between."