Lawmakers voice concerns over oil trains in CaliforniaJun 19, 2014
State lawmakers learned at a hearing Thursday that there is very little they can do to regulate the growing number of oil trains entering California, and even tracking their movements is proving difficult.
“I almost feel like our hands in California are tied,” said Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Democratic state senator from Santa Barbara, during a joint hearing of several Assembly and Senate committees.
Paul King, deputy director of the Office of Rail Safety at the California Public Utilities Commission, testified that the recently passed state budget will allow his agency to hire seven additional rail inspectors.
However, he said public concerns about the shipments are justified.
“The risks are very high,” he said. “These things explode when they derail with any force at all.”
An official from the California Energy Commission told lawmakers the amount of crude oil imported into the state by rail has increased by more than 90 percent during the first four months of the year, compared to the same time last year.
He said oil trains are headed to facilities in McClellan Park in Sacramento County and the Bay Area city of Richmond.
He said five more terminal facilities are planned and a facility at the Port of Stockton that could receive 6,500 barrels per day was in the early stages.
“Were there to be a derailment in the Sacramento railyard, a scant distance from here, everyone in downtown Sacramento, including the State Capitol, would be threatened,” said Assembly Member Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento.
Lawmakers also expressed concern about the environmental impact and the potential effect on drinking water if a derailment were to happen near a major waterway or reservoir.
Jayni Hein, a U.C. Berkeley law professor testified that regulating railroads is normally the job of the federal government and that states can intervene in only limited circumstances.
Recently, the federal government ordered rail companies to begin sharing information about oil train shipments with state and local governments.
However, state officials testified the reports they have received so far are for shipments that have already arrived.
“That’s unacceptable. They need that information earlier than later. I think the public has the right to know too,” said Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Aguora Hills, who chaired the hearing.
Juan Acosta of BNSF Railway said his company would consider sharing shipment details with state officials but wanted assurance the information will not become public.
If it does, he said, the trains might become targets.
“That’s the danger, a terrorist or somebody who’s misguided or who has some bad intention. I think that’s the concern we have,” Acosta told KCRA 3.
Jan Rein of Midtown Sacramento testified at the hearing.
She later told KCRA 3 she lives a few blocks from the tracks and used to love to hear the trains rumble by, but not anymore.
“I don’t want to be incinerated in my own home,” she said.