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Bill to help first responders in Bakken oil incidents stalls in Congress

Mike Simonson, Wisconsin Public Radio

An emergency preparedness bill that would investigate the best way for local first responders to react to a railroad crude oil spill is on hold in Congress.

The Response Act would form a panel to decide the best way to respond to a rail tanker incident involving North Dakota Bakken crude oil. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., said the bill is needed in Wisconsin, since Bakken oil is transported across 18 counties about 45 times a week.

“We have these volatile liquids coming through our communities at a rate we’ve never seen before, and I have heard volumes from folks along the railway, folks who are along the path of a planned-for pipeline, saying ‘We need to be prepared’,” said Baldwin.

Baldwin said the bill was derailed at the last minute.

“Regrettably, there was an attempt to politicize the issue by adding an amendment that would approve the Keystone pipeline,” said Baldwin.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., sponsored that amendment. He said that while it did involve Keystone, it would have also looked at the safety of all pipelines.

“Pipelines are not 100 percent safe by any means,” said Johnson. “There’s been spillage, there have been accidents. There’s been deaths associated with pipelines just as there has been with rail. Let’s get all of the information so that we as a nation can come to the right conclusion on how to safely transport this oil.”

Baldwin said the Response Act is seen as bipartisan in both Houses, but Johnson disagreed: “Democrats don’t want to vote on anything that they think might be politically unpopular, that might upset their control of the Senate,” he said.

Both senators believe the bill will come up again once the August recess is over.

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