TEANECK, N.J. — Environmentalists joined three legislators by the Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Teaneck Wednesday to support a bill regulating trains carrying crude oil through the township and other northern New Jersey towns.
The school is near a railroad track that transports hazardous substances.
So the location itself made a point: communities have a right to know about hazardous materials being transported by rail, particularly when schoolchildren are being taught within the blast zone.
“Freight trains are transporting millions of gallons of dangerous oil through communities each week, putting the safety of our residents at risk," said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), Senate majority leader and co-sponsor of bill S806.
The measure, also sponsored by Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Bergen) and Ass. Tim Eustace (D-Bergen), would require the owner or operator of a “high hazard train” traveling on any railroad track in the state to submit an emergency plan to the Department of Environmental Protection.
The plan would include a discharge response, cleanup, and contingency strategy in the event of an accident. It would have to be renewed at least every five years.
“We’ve seen derailments and other disasters occur across the country,” Weinberg said. “Yet rail companies still refuse to disclose information about their operations and safety plans. Given the safety risk these trains pose to our residents, we have to take action to protect those who live, work and go to school in close proximity to the rail lines.”
The requirements, she said, would improve accountability of the rail companies and require proactive planning to ensure that both the companies and public emergency officials are prepared to respond if an emergency occurs.
The legislators were joined Wednesday by representatives of the New Jersey Work Environment Council, Environment New Jersey, New Jersey Sierra Club.
All called for passage and enactment of the legislation, which will be considered by the Senate Thursday.
“Dozens of trains carrying millions of gallons of oil travel through Bergen County every week,” said Ass. Eustace. “It is unfair that the residents who would be impacted the most if something were to go wrong, are being deprived of information that could help.”
The increased production of crude oil from the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota has led to an increase in the volume of crude oil being transported by rail in North America. An estimated 30 million gallons of crude oil per week are transported by rail from North Dakota to refineries and storage facilities in New Jersey and neighboring states.
The costs of a potential disaster are “astronomically high,” said Dan Fatton, executive director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council. He added that the rail car companies currently are not required to prove they have insurance coverage for worst case disasters.
“This bill would be a step in the right direction for information transparency and safety preparedness,” he said.
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