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Minnesota oil safety provisions avoid pipelines

ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers are on the verge of considering a bill that would help prevent oil train disasters and respond better if they occur, but the bill includes nothing about pipeline safety.

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That does not set well with Gov. Mark Dayton and House Transportation Finance Chairman Frank Hornstein, D-Minneapolis.

Dayton said Wednesday that he told legislative leaders that he wants pipeline safety provisions included in the bill.

“I’m quite confident they will look into it,” Dayton told reporters.

There is little time to do something this legislative session. No votes may be taken after Sunday.

Railroad safety provisions to provide $8.26 million over the next three years are contained in an overall budget bill that House and Senate negotiators are struggling to finish. The transportation items supposedly are wrapped up, but Dayton and Hornstein hope that portion of the bill can be reopened.

Several explosive derailments have grabbed attention recently. The governor and chairman said the rail provisions are good first steps to dealing with derailments.

“We fell short on pipelines,” Hornstein said.

That is a problem, Dayton said, because more oil pipeline construction is being considered.

Hornstein said that Minnesota pipelines have spilled 18,000 gallons of oil since the early 1990s. “We have a record of spills.”

A House-passed bill contained pipeline safety provisions, but the Senate measure did not.

“We believe the House is taking a reasonable approach to a very important topic,” said George Esbensen, legislative chairman of the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association.

Esbensen said that 900,000 people live near existing oil pipelines.

“Leaving out these transport routes places a lot of people in potential jeopardy, and we think the oil and pipeline companies have a civic duty to help protect the people in these areas,” he said. “We hope that at the end of negotiations, the stronger House provisions will prevail on this issue.”

Among items in Hornstein’s bill was one to require pipelines to begin cleaning up a spill within eight hours.

The bill contains $2 million to improve highway crossings along oil train routes, mostly from the Moorhead area to the Twin Cities, the route taken by most oil trains.

Among the other beneficiaries of the funds would be first responders such as fire departments on oil train routes. First responders would receive state-funded training and equipment.

Whatever the outcome of remaining talks this year, Hornstein said, the oil transportation issue will be in front of lawmakers again.

“This will be an issue that will be discussed ... certainly next year and for years to come,” he said, in light of booming western North Dakota oil production. “There is much more we can do.”

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.