Oil train derailments are becoming more and more common, and now an amendment to the budget bill recommends that federal funds be used to help train first responders on how to handle such a crisis if it happens in their town.
They are two in a spate of last-minute amendments tacked onto the 2016 Senate budget bill, which passed last week. Introduced by Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), the first measure would allocate funds for training first responders on how to address derailments of trains carrying crude oil and other hazardous substances. She also introduced a second amendment, which would recommend that federal funds be allocated to create a Commission on Native Children, to go hand in hand with a bill she has before the Senate. The Commission on Native Children would examine high poverty rates, unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, and the lack of economic opportunities for youth especially in North Dakota communities and Indian country in general, “and make tangible recommendations on how to make sure they are protected and supported,” according to Heitkamp’s description of the bill, which she introduced in June 2014.
“This Congress must invest in improving the lives of our children and the safety of our neighborhoods—and we can do that by prioritizing policies I’ve put before Congress,” said Heitkamp in a statement on March 25. “By recommending the creation of a Commission on Native Children, we can stop turning our backs on the suffering experienced by too many generations of children—and start changing outcomes.”
The other amendment recognizes the reality and inevitability of increasing oil train shipments, accompanied as they are by a growing number of train derailments, sometimes to tragic effect. That amendment would create a panel that would come up with recommendations to Congress on how to best support first responders in this new type of emergency.
The latter dovetails with the Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs, and Safety Evaluation (RESPONSE) Act that she introduced after the December 2013 derailment in Casselton, North Dakota.
Heitkamp tied the two amendments together under the rubric of safety, investment and preparation for the future.
“It’s also on us not to leave the safety of our communities to chance,” Heitkamp said. “As more instances of crude oil train derailments occur across the country, we need to establish a federal panel of responders, leaders and experts to make sure the men and women on the front lines of these emergencies have tools they need to keep our neighborhoods safe. Together, we can save lives, change trajectories, and grow stronger, better communities for years to come—and we can do it by making smart investments in America’s future today.”