Commissioners at the Port of Vancouver voiced their support Tuesday for a rail safety bill introduced in the U.S. Senate late last month.
All three commissioners voted in favor of a resolution supporting the Crude-By-Rail Safety Act of 2015.
The bill was drafted by Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, and aims to improve rail safety by requiring national standards for moving crude oil by rail.
The Port of Vancouver is the site of a proposed oil terminal that, if built, would be the nation’s largest.
The proposed terminal, called the Vancouver Energy Project, would load Bakken crude arriving by rail onto ships destined for refineries along the West Coast.
At Tuesday’s port meeting, Commissioner Jerry Oliver recalled meeting with Sen. Cantwell earlier this year in Washington D.C., where they discussed her rail safety legislation.
“She expressed her concerns and we largely echoed them,” Oliver said. “We told her we supported strong standards for rail cars.”
Oliver said he supports Cantwell’s bill because the port wants a federal standard that is “clear and distinct.”
“We’re looking at perhaps six months after the passage of this bill. We’ll have hard and fast rules and we at the Port of Vancouver support that,” he said.
Among other things, Cantwell’s bill would require older model train cars be phased out 90 days after being signed into law. Some models of train cars carrying crude have punctured after train derailments or other accidents causing spills and at times explosions.
Before passing the resolution, commissioners took public comment.
Don Orange, a local business owner, told commissioners they were endorsing legislation that was trying to help address a problem the Port of Vancouver was part of creating.
“You’re sitting here telling us that you know that the train cars are unsafe and that you’re asking the federal government to make them safe so that they please don’t destroy the towns along the line,” he said. “You folks are the ones that are setting up a terminal here.”
That sentiment was echoed by Dan Serres, the conservation director with the nonprofit environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper.
Serres told commissioners that he didn’t object to the resolution, but called it a “distraction.”
“The only way to stop oil trains from exploding in your community is to have fewer oil trains in your community,” he said. “It’s sort of like praising someone for coming an cleaning up your mess; something that you’re actively creating.”
Following public comment, Port of Vancouver CEO Todd Coleman responded to criticism from some who said endorsing federal legislation was a waste of time.
“The truth of it is, this legislation proposed by Sen. Cantwell would have a difficult time passing if people don’t get behind it,” he said. “But if a number of people get behind it, including the oil industry, including the ports who are going to handle these types of cargos and these types of facilities, then it has a chance of passing.”
Coleman said by backing the bill commissioners and the port were responding to calls from community members to support legislation that improves safety.
A representative from the Vancouver Energy Project also spoke in favor of the legislation at Tuesday’s port meeting.