Capitol Alert

Senator calls on Jerry Brown to halt crude oil trains in ‘treacherous’ California mountain passes

A crude oil train operated by BNSF snakes its way west through James, Ca., just outside of the Feather River Canyon in the foothills into the Sacramento Valley on June 5, 2014.
A crude oil train operated by BNSF snakes its way west through James, Ca., just outside of the Feather River Canyon in the foothills into the Sacramento Valley on June 5, 2014. Special to The Bee

Sen. Jerry Hill on Tuesday called on Gov. Jerry Brown to halt the transport of crude oil on trains and other hazardous materials “through our most treacherous passes.”

The request by Hill, D-San Mateo, comes in reaction to a corn train derailment last week in the Feather River Canyon that sent train cars and corn spilling down an embankment into the river. The cause of the derailment is under investigation.

The Feather River route through Plumas and Butte counties is used by at least one train a week carrying up to 2.9 million gallons of highly flammable Bakken crude oil from North Dakota. More crude oil trains are expected to be coming into the state in the next few years, most of them traversing mountains passes deemed “high-risk” for derailments by the state Public Utilities Commission. State officials have said they do not believe California is ready to deal with the consequences of a major oil spill and fire.

“This incident serves as a warning alarm to the state of California,” Hill wrote in a letter to the governor. “Had Tuesday’s derailment resulted in a spill of oil, the spill could have caused serious contamination” in Lake Oroville, the state’s second largest reservoir, a source of drinking water for millions in the state.

Other “high-risk” derailment sections in Northern California include UP lines outside of Dunsmuir and Colfax.

Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said the state cannot stop interstate commerce, but said the state needs to continue to work with the railroads to assure safer shipments. “These trains are going to come through,” he said. “We need to work together with the industry to put every safety precaution possible in place.”

Several environmental groups filed a petition Tuesday in San Francisco federal court seeking to force the federal government to ban older railroad cars - DOT-111s built before 2011 - from transporting crude oil. The U.S. Department of Transportation last month rejected the groups’ demand. DOT says it’s developing new guidelines that will phase out the older cars.

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 5:40 p.m. Dec. 2, 2014 to add Ghilarducci‘s comments and the court action.

Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.

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