Alarmed by a string of explosive and disastrous oil spills, two states recently passed laws aimed at forcing rail and pipeline companies to abide by more rigorous emergency response measures instead of relying on the federal government.
The moves by New Hampshire and Minnesota reflect a desire for more control over in-state hazards, as well as mounting frustration over gaps in federal law involving oil pipelines and oil trains, superficial federal reviews and the secrecy surrounding spill response plans submitted to U.S. regulators.
“At this point, lots of states are looking at oil-by-rail and thinking about how they would respond — whether they have the resources, whether their first responders have the resources, and whether their laws are sufficient to protect their communities,” said Rebecca Craven, program director at the Pipeline Safety Trust, a safety advocacy group based in Washington State.
It’s the same with pipelines. “States are becoming more aware of new pipelines being proposed in their states, or expansion of existing pipelines, or changes in (a pipeline’s) products,” Craven said. “As a result of public concerns being raised, they’re starting to respond by undertaking state-level spill response plans. I think it could be a trend.”
Under New Hampshire’s law, which the governor is expected to sign, the state gains the power to establish its own, more stringent requirements for inland pipeline spill response plans and equipment. Minnesota’s law creates tougher emergency preparedness standards for pipelines and oil-carrying railroads. It also charges rail and pipeline companies a fee to help equip and train local fire departments to handle oil accidents.
“I think it’s pretty much indisputable at this point that what exists at the federal level is not adequate,” said Sheridan Brown, legislative coordinator for the New Hampshire Audubon. “We’re happy that there’s going to be some state level oversight.”