November 29, 2016
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) announced today that bipartisan legislation he cosponsored with Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) to support first responders by ensuring they have the resources and tools they need to handle hazardous incidents, including crude oil train derailments, unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives – bringing the legislation one step closer to being signed into law.
Senator King has been working with Senator Heitkamp and his colleagues to equip emergency response teams with the necessary tools and resources to prepare for hazmat incidents on the rails and keep communities safe since 2013, after a train carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec near the western Maine border, killing more than 45 people. The passage of today’s legislation in the House includes minor changes from the version that passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate in May, and will be sent back to the U.S. Senate for final approval before reaching the President’s desk.
“It happens time and again: when there’s an emergency, Maine’s first responders step up to take action, selflessly putting their lives on the lines to save others and protect our communities,” Senator King said. “That’s why it’s so important that we support them by ensuring they have access to the highest-quality training and best resources available, which is what this legislation will help do. Putting the necessary tools into the hands of our first responders will better prepare them and, ultimately, help save lives.”
The Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs, and Safety Evaluation (RESPONSE) Act would enable first responders to get quality training to handle hazardous situations and have access to the appropriate resources and effective communications. Specifically, the legislation would establish a public-private council that combines emergency responders, federal agencies, and leading experts to review training and best practices for first responders. This council, co-chaired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), would provide Congress with expert recommendations on how to address first responders’ safety needs with increased railway safety challenges so they can best protect communities across the country.
Senator King is a strong advocate for increased rail safety measures. In 2014, he joined several of his colleagues in advocating for the creation of a Safe Transportation and Energy Products Fund to provide the U.S. Department of Transportation new flexibility to address emerging issues related to the transportation of combustible energy products – including more expeditious rulemaking, technical studies, increased rail and energy product inspections, safety mitigation and response planning, first responder training, and community outreach. He has also pressed the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to immediately implement National Transportation Safety Board recommendations that were the result of an investigation of the horrific train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in 2013.
Additional cosponsors of the bill included Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). U.S. Representative Ron Kind (D-Wisc.) introduce companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2015.