Heitkamp wants more money for oil train safety

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) pressed Senate appropriators to give more money to programs that intended to boost the safety of freight trains that are carrying crude oil shipments.

The comments are the latest in a series of Heitkamp efforts to show she is forcing changes to the regulation of oil trains after a December derailment in the town of Casselton in her home state resulted in 400,000 gallons of oil being spilled.

“Because of our pressure, we are already seeing changes to make our rail transportation safer, but the Appropriations Committee needs to provide the Department of Transportation with the resources necessary to make sure that crude carried along the rails is done safely,” Heitkamp told members of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.

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“This means that the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration must have the funds necessary for an adequate number of inspectors," the North Dakota lawmaker continued. "It also means dedicating dollars to specifically addressing the transportation challenges related to moving energy products where they need to go. We need to give our communities confidence that energy products being transported by rail — which have increased greatly in the last few years, especially in North Dakota — are moving as safely as possible.”

The recent spate of oil train derailments has been used by supporters of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to argue that the Obama administration should allow the project to be built. The State Department is currently conducting an environmental review because the oil sands pipeline would run from Canada to the U.S.

Heitkamp has previously said that President Obama should allow the construction of the pipeline, which advocates have said would reduce the amount of oil that is shipped on trains.

Federal regulators have pushed in the meantime to lower the speed limit for freight trains carrying crude oil and to inspect tracks more frequently as part of an effort to boost safety.

Heitkamp has supported the new regulations from the Department of Transportation. Her office said Wednesday that her push helped bring them bring them about.

"Since the Casselton derailment, Heitkamp has worked tirelessly to understand what happened, and push for improvements to rail safety," Heitkamp's office said in a press release announcing her support for increasing funding for oil train safety programs.

"She has worked closely with the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, as well as other federal, state, and local officials, and BNSF Railroad," the press release continued.