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Train Derailment

What if disaster strikes? Oregon wants stricter laws for oil trains traveling in the state.

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By REED ANDREWS, KATU

PORTLAND, Ore. (CIRCA via KATU) — Environmental groups are pushing Oregon to make changes in how it regulates oil trains, saying the current laws don't require train companies to properly plan for disaster.

"Oregon right now has the weakest laws on the West Coast," said Michael Lang, conservation director for Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

The issue is getting renewed attention two and a half years after more than 40,000 gallons of oil spilled during a derailment in Mosier. Fortunately, on that June day in 2016, there was only a negligible wind. Had there been stronger gusts, the explosion and ensuing fire could have quickly spread to the town.

"Mosier really did dodge a bullet, and we may not be so lucky next time," Lang said.

The Oregon Legislature heard testimony on a bill Thursday afternoon. In it, train companies would have to create an oil emergency response plan and be insured for 100 percent of the cleanup for a worst-case scenario spill.

Current Oregon law only requires companies to be insured for 15 percent of the potential costs in a disastrous spill.

"Our goal has been to develop a framework that does that," said Aaron Hunt, with Union Pacific, in the House committee hearing. "I do want to point out that railroads are one of the nation's safest industries. We need to continue to do that."

Burlington Northern says the new regulations, which are similar to the rules laid out in Washington four years ago, shouldn't hinder their operations.

"We wanted to mirror California and Washington as close as possible," said Tom Barrow, with BNSF Railways. "The consistency is very helpful. Having to stop and do something completely different, just because of state lines, is difficult."

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