Tell us what’s on the rails

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board June 13, 2014 12:20 pm

Firefighters and other emergency first responders in Oregon now know how much crude oil is rolling along the state’s railroads, including the Union Pacific tracks that run the length of Baker County and directly through Haines, Baker City and Huntington.

That’s good.

What’s not good is that we, the public, don’t have the same information.

Not yet, anyway.

We’re optimistic, though, that Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum will order state officials to disclose the details they recently received from railroads.

Obviously the public is entitled to know what’s traveling past their homes and schools every day at 50 mph.

At least that should be obvious.

This issue has generated considerable publicity this spring mainly because of rail shipments of crude oil from North Dakota that is more volatile than oil drilled in Utah and other places.

Union Pacific isn’t hauling North Dakota oil through Oregon. It does, though, bring oil from Utah through Eastern Oregon.

In March the Oregon Department of Transportation declined to divulge information it had received from railroads about the volumes of crude oil they carry in Oregon.

Rosenblum overruled the agency.

So far, though, she hasn’t decided about the latest data the railroads provided as a result of an emergency federal order issued in May. That order requires railroads that carry more than 1 million gallons of North Dakota oil in a single train — that’s about 35 tanker cars — to notify states about how many such trains move through which counties on a weekly basis.

Meanwhile, Oregon’s U.S. senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, have asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to expand the emergency order to include all rail shipments of oil, not exclusively trains hauling North Dakota crude.

The senators’ idea is a good one.

That, combined with Rosenblum again ordering state officials to publicly disclose information about oil, will ensure that residents of Baker County and other places with railroads know what’s rolling by on the rails.