02.24.15

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Joins Efforts to Improve Support for First Responders Following Crude Train Derailments

Senator Calls for Better Resources & Training to More Effectively Respond to Oil Train Derailments

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin today cosponsored legislation to improve emergency preparedness and training for first responders and provide needed support to help emergency personnel better respond to hazardous incidents, such as crude oil train derailments and other hazmat situations. The Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs, and Safety Evaluation (RESPONSE) Act was introduced by Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

Oil trains have become a common sight passing though Wisconsin towns. With recent derailments making headlines across the country, many Wisconsinites are rightly concerned about protecting their communities,” said Senator Baldwin. “The RESPONSE Act will help localities get the resources they need to be prepared and keep their towns safe. I will keep working with local, state, and federal officials to continue to improve rail safety in Wisconsin and across the country.”

In the wake of last week’s derailment in West Virginia of an oil train that passed through Wisconsin, Senator Baldwin has pushed for efforts, including legislation, to prioritize support for first responders and make sure they have the tools and skills they need to protect communities when responding to hazmat incidents on the rails.

As energy development in North America has expanded in recent years, transporting oil on the rails through Wisconsin communities has become increasingly common. On major freight railroads in the U.S., the number of railcars carrying crude oil grew by more than 4,000 percent between 2008 and 2013, with additional increases in 2014. Reports indicate that more than 40 oil trains a week pass through Wisconsin communities.

The Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs, and Safety Evaluation (RESPONSE) Act aims to address these new challenges by creating a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) public-private council that would bring together emergency responders, Federal agencies, and leading experts to review training and best practices for first responders. The Council would provide recommendations to Congress on how to address first responders’ needs moving forward and help them protect communities across the country. A one-page summary of the bill is available online here.

Throughout her time in the U.S. Senate, Senator Baldwin has advocated on behalf of Wisconsinites and called for action to improve rail safety and railroad conditions in the state. In April 2014, Senator Baldwin wrote to the Appropriations Committee to raise awareness of the increase of combustible oil traveling through the Midwest. Senator Baldwin also joined U.S. Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) in writing to the U.S. Department of Transportation and Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration urging the agencies to strengthen their proposed rules on the transportation of crude oil via railroad. More on Senator Baldwin’s advocacy for rail safety is available online here.

Joining Senator Baldwin in cosponsoring Senator Heitkamp’s RESPONSE Act were Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Charles Schumer (D-NY). Identical legislation was also introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives today by Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI).