Rep. Frank Hornstein and oil train safety advocates held a news conference to call for greater transparency from railroads. Tim Pugmire | MPR News
  1. Listen Story audio

DFL lawmakers and some local government officials are calling on Minnesota railroad officials to make public the emergency plans they recently submitted to the state for dealing with an oil train disaster.

Those plans are now required under state law, but the railroads have not shared the information publicly. Five railroads submitted plans to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency last month.

Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, was a chief sponsor of the 2014 legislation. He said during a news conference Tuesday that he expects greater transparency from the railroads.

“What would happen if there was an accident in a densely populated area?” Hornstein asked. “The railroads have planned for this, and people need to know what they’re planning and what documents are out there.”

Judson Freed, director of emergency management for Ramsey County, said he also wants to see the railroad plans.

“I need to know that the plans that we’re putting in place in Ramsey County and with our communities are complementary to the plans that the rail industry is putting into place, and that their plans are complementary to ours,” Freed said.

Following the news conference, a spokesperson for the MPCA said that local emergency officials will be allowed to view the plans in person at the agency, but cannot yet receive copies due to privacy concerns raised by the railroads. He said discussions were underway to address those concerns before releasing the documents.

Amy McBeth, a spokesperson for BNSF Railway, responded with a statement that stressed the railroad’s ongoing work with local responders on emergency preparation and training.

“We understand MPCA is in the process of reviewing BNSF’s plan and we’ll work with the state agency as it responds to requests for public release of the plan,” McBeth wrote. “We will continue working with officials and responders to share information and provide ongoing training as we have done for decades.”

Good morning! Watch these five politics stories today.

1. Confederate flag may come down.

The South Carolina Senate voted to take down the Confederate flag that flies in front of the state’s Capitol building. But the South Carolina House still has to vote on the proposal, and right now, it’s unclear whether proponents of taking down the flag have the votes. (AP via Star Tribune)

2. Clinton versus Sanders in Iowa.

Yesterday, I included two stories in the Digest about Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ unexpected success among the liberal base early in the primary season. As The New York Times reports, Sanders’ chief rival, Hillary Clinton, is taking his campaign seriously, particularly in Iowa, a state important for winning the Democratic presidential primary. (The New York Times)

3. Nuclear accord countdown.

With the official deadline approaching for a nuclear accord between Iran and a handful of countries, including the United States, Iran is asking for a United Nations arms embargo to be completely lifted. (The Wall Street Journal)

4. Martin debrief.

The Bakk-Dayton divide. Rural Minnesota versus the Twin Cities. House Speaker Kurt Daudt and whether he “won” or not. Those are some of the topics MinnPost covered in an interview this week with DFL party chair Ken Martin. (MinnPost)

5. Minnesota masterpieces. 

Expect a lot of talk about where to display a slew of state artwork once the Capitol renovation is complete. What can I say? It’s a slow news week here in Minnesota. (MPR News)

 

“The Battle of Nashville” by Howard Pyle hangs in the governor’s reception room at the Minnesota state Capitol. (Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

A state panel will spend the next six months trying to decide what kind of art is needed inside the renovated Minnesota Capitol building. The panel likely will consider how to display governor portraits and whether some of the depictions of Civil War battles should come down, at least temporarily.

The art subcommittee of the Capitol Preservation Committee set out a timeline Monday for gathering public input on those decisions, but no hearings have been scheduled. It will make its recommendations in January.

The more than $300 million Capitol renovation project is expected to be completed in early 2017.

State Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, said one issue up for discussion is whether to continue the tradition of displaying portraits of former governors, which currently total 39.

“Is this the most important use of our wall space moving forward from here to eternity?” Loeffler asked. “Our Capitol is 110 years old. If you think of how many governors we might have in the next 110 years, that’s a lot of wall space for portraits.”

Loeffler said portraits could be rotated rather than having them all on permanent display.

Another legislator who serves on the subcommittee disagrees with that approach.

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said all of the governors should be included.

“A chronological display of the governors and their portraits I think is good for interpreting the history of the state,” Urdahl said.

The panel is also expected to discuss the amount of Civil War art in the building. Loeffler and Gov. Mark Dayton have previously questioned the need for all of the large paintings depicting Civil War battles.

Urdahl said he wants to make sure that there isn’t an attempt to rewrite history.

“The Capitol essentially was built as a monument to the Civil War veterans,” he said. “That was an important part of our history.”

Lawmakers allocated $3.3 million this year for Capitol art preservation but nothing for new art. Still, members of the subcommittee are looking for ways to add to the Capitol collections.

Loeffler said new art is needed to “enliven and update the story of Minnesota.”