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Officials: More Spill Response Capacity for Oil Trains Needed

The rapid rise in crude oil shipping by rail means Northwest states need to bulk up their oil spill response capacity. That's according to members of a task force of Pacific states and British Columbia which met in Seattle Wednesday.

Environmental regulators heard from BNSF Railway that mile-long crude oil trains from North Dakota could cross the Northwest around five times a day in coming years. That makes the Washington Department of Ecology's Linda Pilkey-Jarvis especially concerned about the inland Northwest, which hasn't been much of a focus when it comes to oil spills before. She says her agency would like to see railroads "contribute" to a spill readiness fund like marine tankers have to.

"You know, they're presenting a risk so they should pay to keep us ready,’ she said.

However, extending the oil import tax to rail transport would require an act of the Washington state Legislature. The railroads not surprisingly oppose that. BNSF says on its own, it has ordered additional spill response trailers to be stationed along the Columbia River.

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.