Burgum statement on federal agency pre-empting Washington state’s crude-by-rail law

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Gov. Doug Burgum issued the following statement today after the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) pre-empted a Washington state law that effectively banned rail shipments of Bakken crude to refineries in that state.

“We deeply appreciate the Administration and PHMSA for basing this decision on sound science and preserving our state’s constitutionally protected right to interstate commerce,” Burgum said. “Washington state’s law was based on an unsupported, erroneous assumption that Bakken crude oil poses a higher transport risk than other crude oils, when in fact it is shipped in a manner that’s even safer than what federal standards require. We’re grateful to Senators Hoeven and Cramer, Congressman Armstrong and our fellow Industrial Commission members, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, for their determined efforts to block this unfair and arbitrary limitation on Bakken crude. Today’s action supports U.S. energy security and is a much-needed win for North Dakota oil producers, who need access to the West Coast market, especially as they deal with the dual challenges of a global oil price war and slumping demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

North Dakota and Montana jointly petitioned PHMSA last July to overturn the Washington law, which barred crude oil from being unloaded at Washington refineries from rail cars with a vapor pressure greater than 9 psi – well below accepted national standards. In an Aug. 5 letter to PHMSA, Burgum argued that the Washington law would “significantly reduce the value of Bakken crude without any proven safety benefit.” About 10 percent of North Dakota’s daily Bakken crude production is transported by rail to Washington refineries, the governor noted.

In today’s ruling, PHMSA determined that the federal Hazardous Material Transportation Law (HMTL) pre-empts Washington’s vapor pressure limit, which it said would set “an alarming precedent” and “epitomizes the type of patchwork State regulation that Congress sought to avoid when it enacted the HMTA and established a framework of uniform national regulations for regulating the transportation of hazardous materials.”

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