Eustace, Vainieri Huttle, Caride, Muoio, Lagana, Lampitt & Mukherji Bill to Require Emergency Response Plans for High-Hazard Rail Advances

Measure Sets Emergency Preparedness Standards for Transport of Oil, Other Hazardous Substances

Legislation Assembly Democrats Tim Eustace, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Marlene Caride, Elizabeth Muoio, Joseph Lagana, Pamela Lampitt and Raj Mukherji sponsored to require those transporting hazardous products by rail to develop emergency preparedness plans was advanced Thursday by an Assembly committee.

"New Jersey has a strong history of environmental protection, and by working to mitigate the impact of an accident before it even happens, we can continue building on that history," said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic), chair of the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee. "Those who own and operate oil trains and other locomotives transporting hazardous materials have a responsibility both to be proactive about preventing catastrophes and to be prepared to react swiftly if they do occur."

The bill (A-2463) would require the owner or operator of a high-hazard train traveling in New Jersey to submit a discharge response, cleanup and contingency plan to the Department of Environmental Protection. The bill defines a high-hazard train as "any railroad locomotive propelling a railroad tank car or connection of railroad tank cars transporting 200,000 gallons or more of petroleum or petroleum products or 20,000 gallons or more of hazardous substances other than petroleum or petroleum products."

The plan required by the bill must include a detailed description of the planned deployment of personnel and equipment in the event of an emergency, the chain of command for the emergency response measures, an identification of all equipment available for emergency response and contact information for the train operator's emergency response coordinators. The bill also requires each plan to include wildlife protection strategies certified by a marine biologist and an ornithologist.

The plan, which is to be renewed every five years, must comply with DEP regulations, receive approval from a licensed professional engineer and be consistent with applicable local, regional and state emergency response plans. The measure requires owners and operators to conduct an annual emergency response drill to determine the plan's adequacy and personnel's familiarity with the plan.

Finally, the bill would require high-hazard train owners and operators to make their routes and an analysis of the consequences of a spill publicly available online. Owners and operators also would be required to offer training on how to address the dangers posed by high-hazard locomotives to local emergency services personnel serving the areas along a route.

"While it's best for rail owners and operators to work to prevent disasters to begin with, the unfortunate reality is that accidents do happen," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen/Passaic). "In the event of a derailment, a spill or an explosion, there should be no question about the proper course of action needed to minimize damage."

"Hopefully, train owners and operators never will have to use these plans, but they do need to have them in place," said Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic). "When it comes to high-hazard rail, safety must be the top priority."  

"Requiring emergency response plans as well as drills will ensure that all authorized personnel know what to do if something goes wrong," said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). "Involvement from rail owners and operators, experts in the scientific community and officials from all levels of government will help produce plans that keep people and the environment as safe as possible."

"Waiting until there's a spill and then figuring out what to do is the least efficient way to approach emergency response," said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). "With trains today spilling a record amount of oil, it's more important than ever to ensure that there is no doubt about how to proceed in the event of an emergency."

"The people of New Jersey have a right to know if a nearby oil train route puts their family at risk," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). "Making these routes public and making sure owners and operators are prepared for an accident will advance public safety in our state."

"Acting swiftly in the event of an emergency can limit damage and save lives," said Mukherji (D-Hudson). "Establishing a clear protocol beforehand will ensure that there's no confusion about what to do if an accident occurs."

The bill was advanced by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.