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King County executive calls for federal action to protect region from oil train disasters

King County Executive Dow Constantine. - COURTESY PHOTO, King County
King County Executive Dow Constantine.
— image credit: COURTESY PHOTO, King County

King County Executive Dow Constantine commented Thursday about the oil tank car derailment earlier in the day underneath the Magnolia Bridge in Seattle:

“Thankfully no fire resulted from the derailment of oil train tank cars under the Magnolia Bridge. But this incident only shows how little we know about what moves through our communities (including Kent and Auburn) by rail, and how thin is the margin of safety for the people of King County from the hazards of shipping millions of gallons of highly flammable crude oil that can be easily ignited by heat or an electrical spark.

“Local and tribal governments have front-line roles in emergency response and transportation. That is why I convened an Alliance last week of elected leaders from across the Northwest and British Columbia to shine a light on the true costs and impacts of coal and oil trains on our communities, and bring our voices together for a safer energy future.

“We’ve already seen an unprecedented groundswell of opposition to coal export, and the traffic, health, and environmental impacts of up to 18, mile-and-a-half long coal trains coming through the heart of our communities.

“As we’ve seen today (Thursday), we also face growing threats from oil trains – an Exxon Valdez on rails – which carry the potential for devastating explosions and spills. We’ve seen oil train disasters across the U.S. and Canada that have wiped out entire communities. Outdated tank cars must be taken out of service.

“I urge federal regulators to move faster to adopt rules that would assure the public that these trains are safe, including a ban on the shipment of crude oil in 50-year old DOT-111 tank train cars. Rail lines need to provide notification to our communities of oil tank car movements. And we need better review of the environmental safety and economic impacts of these oil trains. The findings of a pending state study on oil train regulatory gaps should prompt state lawmakers to require state-of-art safety upgrades and full disclosure of oil tanker risks.

“In the meantime, we must be prepared. My emergency management director will convene a tabletop exercise in early August to prepare for response to an oil tanker fire."

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