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Lawmakers seek more environmental scrutiny of oil trains

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Lawmakers are looking to increase oversight and safety requirements for trains carrying high-hazard flammable liquids, which are often transported through densely populated communities through New Jersey.

The measure, Senate Bill 1883, would require train companies to develop a clean-up and emergency response plan in the event of an oil spill.

S1883, which is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-30th District, would also require greater transparency from the railway companies on how much crude oil they’re transporting and the routes they’re using, frequently updating that information and making it publicly available.

Historically, rail companies such as CSX, have used railway routes which snake through New Jersey’s densely packed suburbs, while carrying millions of gallons of highly flammable crude oil from the North Dakota Bakken shale region to a refinery near Philadelphia.

Lawmakers and environmental activists have expressed concern about the safety hazard these trains pose in the event of a derailment, as well as the long-term environmental contamination.

In 2013, a 74-freight car carrying crude oil from the Bakken formation derailed and careened into the main street of Lac-Megantic, a small Quebec town, triggering an explosion which killed 47 people.

Prior legislative efforts were approved in the State Legislature, but were vetoed by former Gov. Chris Christie, who argued that allowing the public to have access to routes and cargo volumes would enable terrorists to plan attacks on the trains.

Lawmakers failed in December to override Christie’s veto of the bill.

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved the measure by a 9-4 vote on Monday afternoon.

“If we cannot stop the flow of these trains that pose great potential danger to our communities, we must ensure that there are plans in place that will limit the damage to our environment and to the lives of New Jersey residents if disaster struck,” Weinberg said.

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Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel Munoz covers politics and state government for NJBIZ. You can contact him at dmunoz@njbiz.com.

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