A train derailment

Public HeraldThe polluted aftermath of an oil-train derailment in Alabama last year.

A recent string of oil-train disasters across North America has Washington state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle feeling nervous. Oil-by-rail traffic in the state is poised to soar as crude from the Bakken formation in North Dakota heads to refineries and ports on the coast.

Republicans who control the state Senate and Democrats who control the House have both drafted legislation to try to reduce the risk of accidents and explosions. The Republican bill calls for a variety of studies and would help local agencies develop emergency plans. The Democratic one would go further, requiring greater public notification about the movement of oil through the state and increasing penalties for oil spills.

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The AP reports on hearings in the state capitol:

The Senate Ways and Means Committee heard testimony on a mostly Republican-backed bill that would study the safety of transporting oil and hazardous materials by train, including reviewing gaps in local, state and federal oil-spill response.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee took testimony on a competing Democratic-sponsored bill that is favored by environmental groups who say it provides more transparency and calls for more immediate action. …

“We need to be prepared for these new risks,” said Bruce Wishart of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance who testified Monday in support of the House bill.

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The oil industry prefers the Republicans’ bill over the Democrats’ — surprise, surprise. The Western States Petroleum Association says the Democratic legislation could force the industry to publicly divulge information that it regards as confidential.