Some Minnesota lawmakers and railroad safety advocates are concerned that new disaster plans are not being released to the public. They gathered Tuesday morning, on the second anniversary of the Lac-Megantic disaster in Quebec, to say the state’s plans are essential in coordinating resources should an oil train disaster happen in Minnesota.
Under a new state law, Minnesota’s major railroads all had to submit emergency disaster plans last week to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. This is a result of more oil trains rolling through the state carrying crude from the Bakken region of North Dakota.
The new emergency plans are detailed documents -- some of them more than 500 pages -- but they have not yet been released to the public. At a news conference Tuesday, several emergency planners said they need to have full access to the railroad documents so they can better coordinate their own response to a derailment of fire.
“The railroads have done planning -- that has been helpful. They have helped us with our exercises and our training -- that is helpful,” said Ramsey County Emergency Management Director Judson Freed. “There are more details that they are gathering as a result of these new federal railroad administration rules that came out in May. I need that information from them.”
“We believe that there is information the public should know, so that individual communities can protect themselves,” said Jane Braun of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. “But there are certain things that may be in the plans that would be considered security information, or not public information. So we are in the process of reviewing and talking to the railroads and identifying any information that should not be public.”
This process could take a couple of weeks, but the MPCA says it is not trying to keep this information from the public.
Freed agrees that there will be some information that the state will want to keep from the bad actors, but he just wants to make sure that he is able to get access to the documents. So far, he has not seen them, but the MPCA says he is welcome come to their office and inspect them.
BNSF Railway statement
"BNSF Railway and the rail industry have a strong record of safely delivering hazardous materials, with 99.99 percent of hazmat moved without incident. BNSF recognizes and embraces our responsibility to work to prevent incidents and to respond and manage them if they occur. We have emergency response plans in place that we routinely evaluate, test and update. We have always and continue to work with state responders on preparedness planning and training. In just the past two years, BNSF has conducted hazmat training with 1,700 first responders across Minnesota.
The state law provided a process for railroads to submit their response plans to the MPCA, which we did. We understand MPCA is in the process of reviewing BNSF’s plan and we’ll work with the state agency as it responds to requests for public release of the plan. We will continue working with officials and responders to share information and provide ongoing training as we have done for decades."