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Oil train roulette

Oregon’s wide-open embrace of corporate campaign contributions results in more lenient environmental laws than in neighboring West Coast states. That’s especially pronounced in the railroad industry, which ships hazardous crude oil to export facilities in and near Portland.

Now, in reports from Oregon Public Broadcasting and The Oregonian, we learn that one company is ramping up shipments of heavy crude from Canadian tar sands to a terminal in Portland, but without notifying Oregon officials who would be responsible for dealing with a spill or a fire. This is legal, because Oregon law does not require such notification. In Washington, rail companies must provide 24-hour notice of oil shipments.

Two bills that would have matched oil train rules already on the books in Washington died without a hearing this legislative session. One that is still alive, House Bill 2209, would require railroads operating hazardous train routes to have oil spill contingency plans that are approved by the state Department of Environmental Quality. OPB reports the measure was written in collaboration with Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe and other rail companies.

Railroad campaign contributions average $3,542 per Oregon legislator, the sixth highest amount of any state in the country.

HB 2209 passed one committee on Tuesday, and was referred to the Ways and Means Committee. It should not be allowed to die there.

Even if it becomes law, regulators still won’t know in advance when oil trains are arriving. Lawmakers should get tough on oil shipments before the next accident, not after.