Elimination of state-run rail safety program “a broken promise that leaves North Dakota at risk”

Elimination of state-run rail safety program “a broken promise that leaves North Dakota at risk”

(BISMARCK, N.D.) – DEM-NPL legislators today decried actions by House GOP appropriators to eliminate the state-run rail safety program from the Public Service Commission budget, SB 2008. The cuts to that budget, which passed the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday by a vote of 16-5, eliminate funding for two rail safety inspectors and one rail safety manager.

“Scrapping the rail safety program represents a broken promise that leaves North Dakota at risk of further rail-related incidents,” said Representative Ron Guggisberg, a member of the House Appropriations Committee and Fargo firefighter who voted against the elimination of the rail safety program yesterday. “In the wake of the near-disaster outside Casselton, state officials were scrambling all over each other with proposals to address rail safety. Now, when it actually matters, members of the majority are actively opposing the creation of a rail safety program while GOP statewide officeholders sit back and do nothing about it. That’s unacceptable to us, and we’re going to push hard to bring the rail safety program online in the remaining days of the session.”

Guggisberg, who offered an amendment to restore the rail safety positions in committee on Tuesday, said he will carry a “minority report” on the bill when SB 2008 is considered by the full House of Representatives. If approved, the rail safety manager and inspectors would be funded along with three hazardous liquids inspectors.

Efforts to create a state-run rail safety program were subject to bipartisan approval prior to last year’s November elections. For instance, Senator Tyler Axness, who was also a candidate for the PSC, advocated in July of 2014 for the creation of a “state[-]run” rail inspection “program in partnership with the federal government.” In August of 2014, Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak called for the creation of a “state-run rail safety program” that would “supplement efforts by the” Federal Railroad Administration. Fedorchak included the program in “the agency’s budget request” to the governor last fall.

“Commissioner Fedorchak said she would have clout when it comes to working with the Republican-controlled legislature,” Axness added. “I respectfully ask her to prove it by joining with us as we work to restore the state-run rail safety program cut by House appropriators this week.”

Other state officials have acknowledged the importance of a rail safety program even as the House Appropriations Committee has moved to eliminate funding for the initiative. For instance, Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said in a recent op-ed that “legislators and state officials also are moving forward with plans to establish a state-run railroad inspection program” to “complement federal oversight.” Governor Jack Dalrymple likewise touted the “proposed . . . state run-railroad safety program[,]” specifically citing to the “funding for three positions to enhance railroad track inspections in North Dakota” which has since been eliminated by the House Appropriations Committee.

“If press statements made laws, the funding for the rail safety positions would be well on its way to the Governor’s desk,” added Guggisberg. “What’s needed now is action.”


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From:: Dem-NPL News

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