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Off the Rails: Protest oil train regulation rollback

Gorge residents should be outraged at a decision by the federal government that puts us all in danger.

As reported on the Greater Gorge page, A2, the Trump administration has rolled back a 2015 rule on oil train safety.

The Obama administration rule change required trains carrying highly explosive liquids to have electronically controlled pneumatic brakes installed by 2021 — systems intended to help prevent fiery oil train wrecks like the one in Mosier last year.

The U.S. Department of Transportation under President Donald Trump now says, however, that the rule change would cost three times the benefit it would produce and is rolling it back.

And just how do you measure that?

Electronically controlled pneumatic brakes are supposed to be faster than the current industry standard — air-controlled brakes — because they simultaneously signal to the entire train.

There’s an allegory to be found there: just as Gorge towns and counties in 2016 passed multiple resolutions opposing oil train transport through the Gorge, communities and elected leaders should synchronically couple their efforts to convince the Trump administration its decision was a mistake.

You can roll back a rule, but you can’t roll back a disaster.

Look back to Mosier on June 3, 2016. On that day, the Gorge and that small community in particular averted disaster when an oil train derailed and caught fire. While industry officials, predictably, term the government’s decision “rational,” it is not.

“We’re definitely frustrated that the Trump administration is weakening standards that are not strong enough to begin with,” said Dan Serres, conservation director with Columbia Riverkeeper. U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden were right to immediately weigh in.

“Oil trains are rolling explosion hazards, and as we’ve seen all too many times — and all too recently in Mosier — it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ oil train derailments will occur,” Merkley noted.

“This is outrageous,” Sen. Ron Wyden said via Twitter. “The Trump Admin is once again willing to sacrifice the safety of Americans in the name of undoing regulations. This is a senseless decision that endangers our communities by making oil by rail transportation less safe.”

Gov. Kate Brown stated, “Safety shouldn’t be up for political debate. Oregonians know firsthand the critical importance of rail safety, and we expect the federal government to do all it can to put in place standards that protect communities and prevent dangerous accidents. It’s deeply troubling that the federal administration used inconclusive science to justify rolling back a safety standard without taking other actions that would improve rail safety. All of our communities deserve to know that every measure is being taken to ensure these trains are safe.”

Brown met with federal officials in 2016 following the Mosier oil spill to urge adoption of stronger federal regulation. A top-level response is needed again. From Rep. Greg Walden to Oregon legislators, a noise as loud as a braking freight train is in order. What makes the administration think we have more than one warning?

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