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Commission supports creation of hazmat task force due to oil transport concerns

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POLSON – The Flathead Basin Commission has come out in support of creation of a statewide hazardous materials response and preparedness task force.

The commission voted recently to endorse the legislation, HB 296, sponsored by state Rep. Denise Hayman, D-Bozeman. The commission considered the issue at its Feb. 2 meeting at the Lake County courthouse because of concerns about how petroleum products are transferred through Montana.

The bill would create a 12-member task force that would study the issue and make recommendations in regard to hazardous materials being transported on roads and railways across the state.

The task force, which would be funded at $20,000 over the next two years, would examine state railroad inspections to determine if they are adequate and determine what resources are needed to respond to a train derailment within six hours in rural Montana, among other things.

The task force would report its findings to the state Administration and Veterans’ Affairs Committee by Sept. 15, 2018.

Last week, commissioners discussed a June 2016 Union Pacific train derailment in the Columbia River Gorge city of Mosier that resulted in one oil tanker burning and a small amount of oil leaking into the river, according to reports.

Commissioner Jack Potter, a Columbia Falls resident, spoke at length about the issue.

Some 21,800 railroad cars were transported through the state in one three-month stretch last year, Potter said, noting that one car carries 30,000 gallons of Bakken oil.

“There is no safe way to transport this type of crude via rail,” he said, adding that he doesn’t believe federal regulations are adequate.

The states of Washington and California have passed railroad regulations, and Oregon’s Legislature is considering it, according to Oregon Department of Environmental Quality employee Brian Gilles, as reported by

While a dozen individuals and organizations spoke in favor of HB 296 at a legislative hearing on Jan. 25, various groups spoke against it, including BNSF Railway, Motor Carriers of Montana, Montana Petroleum Association, Montana Department of Military Affairs and Treasure State Resources Association.

Creation of the task force is supported by the Montana Association of Counties and the Northern Plains Resource Council.

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