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Lawmakers seek oil transportation fee for safety programs

ST. PAUL -- Improved crude oil safety measures should be funded by charging 0.01 cent per gallon on all crude transported in Minnesota, the state Legislature's transportation finance chairmen said Wednesday.

"This particular oil is especially volatile, and as we have seen through recent catastrophic accidents in North Dakota and Quebec, our communities and neighborhoods are at increased risk," Rep. Frank Hornstein, D-Minneapolis, said in announcing the initiative on the edge of a St. Paul railyard along with Sen. Scott Dibble, D-Minneapolis.

"Danger is all around us," added lawyer Paul Blackburn, who is helping draft a bill.

Groups supporting the proposal say 2,000 crude oil trains a year pass through Minnesota transporting oil from western North Dakota. Most of the rail traffic is from Fargo, N.D., through the Twin Cities.

Eight major pipelines in Minnesota move crude from North Dakota and Alberta, Canada.

Blackburn said rural areas are most at risk in pipeline and railroad oil spills. And those are the areas with fewer resources to deal with spills, he added.

Early estimates are that the new fee could collect up to $30 million a year. Proceeds would be used to equip and train local agencies such as fire departments to respond to oil spills, as well as funding better disaster planning.

Dibble said no decisions have been made about how money would be split among areas of the state.

Hornstein and Dibble, who next week plan to announce an unrelated motor vehicle fuel tax increase, said their legislation probably will include:

  • Adding a 0.01 cent per gallon tax on pipelines, railroads and truck tankers that transport crude oil in Minnesota.
  • Requirements that the state Pollution Control Agency issue oil safety standards that go beyond federal requirements.
  • A mandate to develop oil emergency response plans in counties in which the highest concentrations of pipelines and railroad tracks that move oil.
  • A requirement that state officials have "spill response standards" before tankers ship crude oil on Lake Superior, something in the early discussion stages.

    The state's readiness for an oil spill, and potential explosion, is "woefully inadequate," Hornstein said.

    For instance, he said, few fire departments have the equipment or foam needed to douse crude oil fires.

    Phillip Qualy of the United Transportation Union said trains can transport oil safely, but said more inspections are needed. Most inspections are done by federal personnel, but the state also could be involved.

    Qualy said conductors in his union support higher standards for oil-carrying cars, a discussion already underway at the federal level.

    Railroad and pipeline companies did not immediately respond to requests to comment on the proposed legislation.

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