Monday, March 23, 2015

HR 1290 Introduced – Rail Hazmat Rerouting

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Rep. Ellison (D,MN) recently introduced HR 1290. The bill (which lacks a catchy title) would require a study of the “impact of diverting certain freight rail traffic to avoid urban areas”.

The bill starts {§1} out with 3+ pages of ‘Congressional Findings’ about the hazards associated with moving crude oil trains (particularly those originating in the Bakken region). Nothing new or noteworthy here.

Section 2 of the bill provides the meat of the matter. It requires {§2(a)} the DOT Secretary to “make appropriate arrangements with the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies" to conduct a study “on the cost and impact of rerouting freight rail traffic containing hazardous material to avoid transportation of such hazardous material through urban areas”. Unlike most proposed legislation that requires the conduct of a study, this bill specifically {§2(e)} authorizes $850,000 for the conduct of the study.

With all of the ‘findings’ setup in section one, it is interesting to note that there is no mention of crude oil in the study requirements. Is specifically refers to “hazardous material” and to ensure the broadest possible scope for the study, the bill uses the definition of that term from 49 USC 5102; which in turn refers to 49 USC 5103(a). That paragraph states:

“The Secretary shall designate material (including an explosive, radioactive material, infectious substance, flammable or combustible liquid, solid, or gas, toxic, oxidizing, or corrosive material, and compressed gas) or a group or class of material as hazardous when the Secretary determines that transporting the material in commerce in a particular amount and form may pose an unreasonable risk to health and safety or property.”

Incidentally, this study would go well beyond the hazmat route planning requirements of 49 CFR 820(c). The routing requirements in that section apply to a small subset of the urban areas described in this bill (“urban area, as designated by the Bureau of the Census, with a population of greater than 30,000”) {§2(d)(2)} and an even smaller subset of the hazardous materials described in that section. Even then routes through High Threat Urban Areas may be considered acceptable as a ‘least overall safety and security risk’.

Since this is a study bill that pushes off any report to the next congress (21 months from the date of passage) it is unlikely that there will be any major objections to this bill. As I have mentioned so many times, however, lack of objections does not guarantee consideration of the bill, much less passage. Ellison is a Democrat and not a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee so it is unlikely that that committee will take up the bill.

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