Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., center, is urging OIRA to “quickly finalize” regulations on rail shipment of crude oil. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
“Oh Ira, why can’t you work more quickly?” That might’ve been what tunesmith George Gershwin said to his lyric-writing brother Ira Gershwin. But for transportation purposes, it’s essentially what Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D- N.D., said Thursday to OIRA – pronounced “oh-Ira” – the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, within the Office of Management and Budget.
OIRA is where proposed regulations go for a final vetting and it now has under review a series of proposed rules on more robust oil tank cars and safer transport of crude oil.
In a letter to OMB director Shaun Donovan, Heitkamp urged OIRA to “quickly finalize” the regulations so that shippers and first responders can know what they must do to more safely ship crude oil. Much of that oil comes from the Bakken formation in Heitkamp’s state and in Montana and is carried by rail to refineries on the East Coast and the West Coast.
She cited the December 2013 derailment, explosion and fire in Casselton, N.D., noting that while no one was killed in that incident “we were lucky… but we cannot depend on luck.”
Meanwhile House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member Peter A. DeFazio, D- Ore., has asked the Government Accountability Office to report to him on what railroads and the federal government are doing to prepare for an oil train derailment and fire “particularly in the most remote and environmentally sensitive areas”
DeFazio specifically asked the GAO to examine what the railroads are doing to preposition “critical resources necessary to respond to spills in both urban and rural areas, including forest lands, with limited road access, prone to catastrophic fire, or at-risk due to long-term drought” and to preposition “critical resources to contain and clean-up oil spills into rivers or other water bodies.”
As the Oregonian reported last year, “Eighteen oil trains a week move along the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge.” Part of the gorge is a national scenic area and it borders national forests.