Lawmakers propose oil transport fee to fund safety plans

Sen, Scott Dibble and Rep. Frank Hornstein, the Minneapolis DFL transportation chairs in the Legislature, stand near a St. Paul railroad yard to explain their concerns about crude oil spills. Tim Pugmire/MPR News

Two DFL lawmakers from Minneapolis are proposing a significant upgrade of safety preparations across the state for possible spills of crude oil.

Rep. Frank Hornstein and Sen. Scott Dibble held a news conference today to outline legislation that would impose a new .01 cent per gallon fee on railroads and pipeline companies that transport crude oil. Hornstein, who chairs the House transportation committee, said the fee would raise as much as $30 million a year to help train and equip local emergency responders.

“Our goal is to make sure we can ensure the safety of Minnesotans and beef up our state’s response, which we feel right now is woefully inadequate, due to our lack of preparedness and our lack of resources,” Hornstein said.

Standing in a St. Paul neighborhood near a busy railroad yard, Hornstein said recent derailments and fires in North Dakota and Quebec showed the potential for catastrophe.

“Our goal is to prevent this from happening in the state of Minnesota,” he said.

The bill, which is called the Oil Spill Defense Act, would also require the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to issue stricter planning and response standards for oil spills. It would also mandate a state plan for a potential tanker accident in Lake Superior.

Sen. Dibble, who chairs the Senate transportation committee,  said he’s concerned about the increasing amount of oil being transported through Minnesota.

“We’re really exploring ways that the state can act responsibly to take care of communities and address all these issues,” Dibble said.

A regional spokeswoman for BNSF Railway had just learned about the proposed legislation and was not ready to comment.


Amy McBeth, a regional spokeswoman for BNSF Railway said the company looks forward to talking to legislators and the administration about the proposal, as well as “our safety record and the current emergency response resources we have in place.”

“We have always worked to reduce risk in the rail industry and have a strong record of moving hazardous materials, with over 99.99% of all hazmat shipments, including crude oil, reaching their destination last year without an accident-caused release,” McBeth said. “Still, we believe that one incident is one too many and work to prevent them from happening in the first place through investments in our infrastructure, employee training, and track and equipment inspections.”