Don’t roll back oil-train safety rule

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We understand and applaud the current administrationís penchant for rolling back regulations that have impeded business growth for the past several decades.

Many of those rules only seem intended to put down a marker that we (the government bureaucrats) are in charge. Rarely do the benefits outweigh the consequences (both intended and unintended) of this heavy-handed approach.

But that doesnít mean all regulations need to be thrown out. Plenty of them are common-sense and safety-first ideas that will help save lives or protect the innocent.

One such regulation that is unfortunately being targeted by the Trump administration is a 2015 regulation requiring trains carrying crude oil or other highly explosive liquids to have electronically controlled pneumatic brakes installed by 2021.

We donít need to tell the residents of Whitefish or other Montana towns and cities on the Hi-Line just how scary the prospect of an oil train wreck is, nor how devastating. The 2013 disaster in Quebec that killed nearly 50 people was fair warning that precautions are not just suggested but mandatory. The new electronic brakes, as opposed to old-fashioned air brakes, are designed to stop trains in a more orderly fashion by communicating to all the rail cars at once, thus limiting the chance of derailment and catastrophic spills or fires.

Although the U.S. Department of Transportation cited a study that the rule change would cost three times the benefit it would produce, we would argue that the cost is minuscule compared to the risk of oil flowing into Whitefish Lake or an explosion at the very edge of downtown Whitefish itself. The cost for emergency services and cleanup on a derailment near Mosier, Oregon, last year was $9 million. And with the potential for lost life, the cost could rise exponentially.

Deregulation is one thing, but putting people and the environment needlessly in danger is quite another. We would hope the rail industry will join with environmental groups and residents of rail towns in persuading the Trump administration to put the brakes on its own rush toward calamity.

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