Politics blog

Oil-by-rail bills die for lack of support by Senate majority

OlympianMarch 13, 2014 

Oil train cars stacked in Tacoma.


A bill slapping a 5-cent per barrel tax on crude oil entering Washington by rail car died in the state Senate late Thursday as lawmakers moved toward adjournment by midnight.

Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale said it appeared a $300,000 study of oil-by-rail impacts in the state - which budget writers inserted into the supplemental budget - was the only move lawmakers would make this year to deal with the increasing oil traffic on state rail lines.

"Right now, that's all we've got," Ericksen said, describing his effort to get a bill passed as not going well.

Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said he was prepared to add amendments to Senate Bill 6567 that would have let the Department of Ecology collect better data on rail shipments from oil refineries. But Ericksen, who has close ties to the oil industry and has a refinery in his hometown, lacked votes from his caucus to bring the oil-fee measure to a floor vote - as long as Ranker and fellow Democrats were pushing amendments.

Update: Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, the Democratic sponsor of the oil fee bill, said he had votes to approve the original fee bill - without the amendments others wanted.

Money from the fee would have been earmarked for spill responses. Our previous report on the oil-by-rail issue is here.

Ranker also wanted to amend the definition of oil in the bill to include petroleum products - anticipating that Washington's transition from an oil-importing state into an oil-exporting state would occur over the next few years. Changing the definition would let Ecology also keep track of fuel refined for export, Ranker said.

Ranker, whose Democratic caucus is in the minority, never got a chance. 

Already doomed weeks ago was a stronger regulatory measure from Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle. Her House Bill 2347 required refineries receiving oil shipments by rail to report that data to the Department of Ecology, and it originally had provisions to let Ecology write rules governing tug escorts for oil shipments in Grays Harbor and the Columbia River, echoing rules already in place for Puget Sound.

Farrell said she wants more disclosure to let communities know how much oil is coming through their towns, and so that disaster-response workers can better gauge the scope of disaster they could face.

High profile explosions of oil shipped by rail in Canada and North Dakota have brought the safety issue to the fore. Farrell said she expects the study to show a need for planning and better disclosure, and the lawmaker said she'll introduce another bill next year.

The measure placing the fee on each 42-gallon barrel of oil would have treated oil-by-rail the same as oil now coming into the state by ship from Alaska or pipeline from Canada. The measure was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina.


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