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Inslee directive encourages oil study

Governor Jay Inslee on Thursday issued a directive affirming the state’s committment to study the safety and environmental concerns surrounding crude oil transport.

“The people of Washington are rightfully demanding answers about how their safety will be protected as more oil trains roll through their city or town,” Inslee said. “This directive is about gathering the information we need to effectively protect the health and safety of our people and our environment.”

The directive asks the state Department of Ecology, Department of Transportation, Utilities and Transportation Commission and Washington Military Department’s Emergency Management Division to conduct a thorough risk analysis along rail lines, assess the risk of crude from North Dakota’s Bakken shale region relative to other forms of crude, begin developing spill response plans for affected counties and identify potential ways to coordinate with neighboring states and British Columbia.

Much of that has already been in the works for Ecology, particularly since funding for a marine and rail oil transportation study was included in the state’s 2014 budget.

“(The governor’s directive) strongly parallels the work that we’ve been doing and planned to do,” Ecology spokeswoman Lisa Copland said. “It does give us more specifics about the contents of the study. There is now a new requirement that we provide recommendations on how to fund the gaps that we identify, but, other than that, it’s right in line with what we’re already doing.”

She said it didn’t appear likely to alter the course of oil transport projects proposed at the Port of Grays Harbor. Proposals from Westway Terminals and Imperium Renewables are already in the environmental impact statement phase, and a third company, U.S. Development, just submitted its permit applications.

“I don’t think one would affect the other,” Copland said.

“I don’t think it will impact the schedule of the EIS, and I don’t know that it will specifically impact the projects here, but it will impact public safety in all communities,” Hoquiam City Administrator Brian Shay said. “It’s a good directive for any community where there’s an impact on the oil trains or the vessels that are moving crude oil. Several of the directives are specifically things that we will also be looking at during the EIS.”

Once Ecology’s report is delivered in October, Inslee may ask for legislative action.

“Based on the analysis and recommendations provided by Ecology, the governor will be asking the 2015 legislature to ensure Washington is adequately prepared to manage potential increases in oil train traffic and the risks that come with it,” Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said.

To that end, Shay said staff from the state Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunication Committee and other House and Senate staffers recently toured Westway and Imperium to learn more about the operations and the companies’ proposals for expansion.

“The House and the Senate are trying to get as much information as they can on this issue, which probably falls right in line with the governor’s directive,” Shay said.

Copland said the involvement of other agencies in the issue of oil transport and its variety of impacts has been encouraging.

“We have clearly been concerned and working on oil transport safety for a long time. What’s kind of neat now is all the other agencies that have gotten involved and the governor’s brought in, and now it’s about safety and health and the environment, so it’s gotten to be a bigger picture,” she said.

The text of the directive is available at 1.usa.gov/1n7QO6t. Updates on Ecology’s study can be found online at 1.usa.gov/1lbBM2F.