Trains from MEP and Paul

By Kathy Hollander, MN350 Tar Sands Lead


Minnesota joins the lists of states passing stronger regulations for oil spills from pipelines and oil trains! MN350, the Sierra Club, and political allies successfully championed a bill that will empower Minnesota to collect $2.5 million annually from railroad and pipeline companies to help first responders get ready for derailments and spills. This is a great step in the fight against extreme energy in the state.

As is usually the case at the legislature, working on the bill was a roller-coaster ride. At MN350, we wrote the first draft of the bill along with Rep Frank Hornstein, a Minneapolis legislator and community organizer who is active in the climate movement. He began to have informational committee hearings with first responders, public safety agencies, and railroad representatives, and ultimately a new bill was drafted incorporating their concerns.

After the recent railroad explosions, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton had also been holding meetings with relevant stakeholders. It took weeks for the pipeline industry to catch on, but once it did, four oil industry lobbyists flew in to St. Paul and started working the Capitol. (Minnesota has a lot of oil pipelines, including Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper.)

At one point, a legislator blocked all references to pipelines so that the bill would have dealt with railroads only. Governor Dayton stepped forward and wrote a letter urging the legislature to put pipelines back in:

…Most Minnesotans will receive little, if any, direct benefit from the transport of these materials across our state. At the very least, their health and safety, the health and safety of their communities, and the quality of their surrounding natural resources should be protected to the greatest extent possible. And they should not have to pay for this protection with their own tax dollars.

Down to the wire and with the legislative session about to end, pipelines were added back into the final bill. And there’s always next year to continue strengthening the language!

Now that the legislation has passed, railroads running large oil trains through Minnesota must have comprehensive oil spill response plans. We’ll have more rail track inspectors, funded by the railroad industry.

There are now mandated time limits for clean-up actions after a spill from a railroad car.

First responders will be able to purchase equipment and receive training, paid for by both the railroad and pipeline industries. The industries will each be assessed at $2.5 million annually through 2017 for a first responder fund.

Many thanks to Rep Frank Hornstein, who championed this bill and moved it forward. Thanks also are due to Sen Vicki Jensen, the Senate author, Sen Scott Dibble, and of course Governor Dayton!

MN350 and Sierra Club volunteers made phone calls, attended hearings, contacted constituents, and spoke to representatives and senators in support of this bill. Thanks to all who helped, especially if you spoke up and contacted your legislator!


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