- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 13, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden are sponsoring new legislation that would require a federal investigation into every oil train derailment and also clarify federal transportation officials’ moratorium power on railway traffic following such incidents.

The bill is the latest effort in Oregon leaders’ push for a crackdown on the transportation of oil by railway after the fiery June 3 derailment of a Union Pacific oil train on the Oregon side of the Columbia River in Mosier, tiny town about 70 miles east of Portland. No one was hurt, but spill of 42,000 gallons of oil disrupted the area’s water system and forced evacuations.

The Democrats’ proposal, revealed Wednesday, specifically addresses what didn’t take place following Mosier.

“One of the things that was shocking to us what the (National Transportation Safety Board) didn’t investigate this crash,” Merkley said during a conference call with media. “They do have a backlog, they are stretched, and that needs to change.”

Last week, in response to Merkley and Wyden’s demand for an explanation, NTSB said in a letter that the accident resulted in no injuries or fatalities and its limited staff was unlikely to contribute much more to the situation than was already being handled elsewhere. The agency also said it doesn’t investigate every railway accident, noting it’s only opened probes into nine of the 23 oil-related incidents in North America over the past decade.

The senators’ bill would require that every such oil train accident be investigated and gives the NTSB resources to hire more investigators.

Merkley said he spoke to a Union Pacific executive this week and was surprised to learn that the rail company itself, not the government, had control over the probe into what caused the Mosier incident.

“If we want to have credibility with the public … it has to be an independent investigation, not one controlled by the railroad line,” Merkley said.

Wyden said the more that comes to light and “the more I hear about this, the more I feel like it’s Colonel Sanders guarding the chicken coup.”

Union Pacific, meanwhile, has since resumed oil train operations along the Columbia despite local officials’ urging the Federal Rail Administration for a moratorium.

“When (Gov. Kate Brown) and the two of us called for a moratorium, we sent letter to the FRA but they said they didn’t’ have that authority. So this legislation gives that to them,” Wyden said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation also proposed new rules Wednesday that would require railroads draft response plans for large oil spills and that rail companies more frequently contact local authorities about the upcoming oil shipments rolling through their areas.


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