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Derailment fallout: Virginia penalizes CSX for oil spill; RESPONSE Act re-enters Congress

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on Monday issued a consent order imposing a $361,000 civil penalty against CSX Transportation in response to a derailment and resulting oil spill that occurred last year in Lynchburg.

A tank car owned by CSX caught fire in the James River during the April 2014 incident. An investigation by DEQ and CSX determined that of the more than 29,000 gallons of crude oil in the breached tank car, about 98 percent was consumed in the fire.

DEQ officials checked the river's water quality for several days and determined there were no other environmental concerns. The consent order is based on state law that prohibits the release of oil onto land or in water.

CSX agreed to pay more than $18,500 for the DEQ’s investigative costs following the oil spill. In addition, the railroad will complete restoration of the river's bank in the area of the derailment and monitor the river to determine if there are any long-term environmental impacts from the incident.

The public can submit comments on the consent order until March 25, when it goes to the State Water Control Board for final approval.

The railroad appreciates its productive working relationship with the DEQ and agreed to the proposed consent order and civil charge, subject to the water control board's final review, said CSX spokesperson Melanie Cost in an email.

"CSX continues its work to ensure that the derailment at Lynchburg has no lasting effects on the environment or the community," she said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) yesterday reintroduced the Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs and Safety Evaluation (RESPONSE) Act (S. 546), which aims to improve emergency preparedness and training for first responders, and provide necessary support to help emergency personnel better respond to crude train derailments and other incidents involving hazardous materials. Identical legislation (H.R. 1043) was introduced in the House by Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.).

In the wake of last week’s CSX crude train derailment near Mount Carbon, W.Va., and other similar accidents in recent years – including a BNSF Railway Co. derailment near Casselton, N.D., in December 2013 – Heitkamp has been pursuing legislation to prioritize support for first responders and make sure they have the necessary tools and skills when responding to haz-mat incidents on rails, she said in a press release.

The RESPONSE Act would create a Federal Emergency Management Agency public-private council that would bring together emergency responders, federal agencies and leading experts to review training and best practices for first responders. The council would provide recommendations to Congress on how to address first responders’ needs.

"We have to make sure first responders in our communities are prepared to handle any potential incidents, like derailments, that may occur to help keep families safe," said Heitkamp. "If dangerous situations like that derailment and subsequent explosion near Casselton, or the recent incident in West Virginia occur, our first responders need to have the training and skills to control the situation and respond as effectively as possible."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/25/2015