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Department of Transportation Announces Final Rule to Improve Oil Spill Response

Washington, D.C.—After a multi-year effort by U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations Subcommittee, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a final rule that will modernize comprehensive oil spill response plans for rail carriers transporting crude or other high-hazard flammable liquids.


“Millions of barrels of crude oil are transported across our country by rail every day. The bulk of these shipments are completed safely, but catastrophes can occur,” said Senator Collins.  “The derailment in Lac Megantic in 2013 was an example of the devastation that can be caused by an accident involving crude oil rail cars.  Fortunately, in that instance, dozens of brave Maine firefighters from several Maine fire departments were among the first on the scene to help our Canadian neighbors.  I urged DOT to update requirements for oil spill response plans, and this rule will improve the standards already in place and ensure safety in our communities.”


“This is a long overdue step to improve the safety of crude oil shipments that Chairman Collins and I have been advocating for on a bipartisan basis.  By improving coordination, communication, and readiness, these rules will protect our rail workers, communities, and the environment from the short- and long-term impacts that harmful oil spills can pose,” said Senator Reed.


This final rule announced by DOT will:


  • Establish geographic response zones along various rail routes, ensuring that both personnel and equipment are staged and prepared to respond in case of an accident.


  • Require qualified individuals for each zone, as well as the organization and equipment capable of mitigating a worst-case incident.


  • Require rail carriers to provide information about high-hazard flammable trains to State and tribal emergency response commissions, pursuant to the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015.


An oil spill response plan is intended to help carriers identify and deploy a response organization to contain and remediate an oil release. The plans require carriers to identify a qualified individual with full authority to implement removal actions, ensure the availability of personnel and equipment to remove a worst-case discharge, and describe training, equipment testing, drills and exercises.

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