A bill that would have required the Maryland Department of the Environment to study the risks of increasingly common crude oil rail shipments through the state has stalled in the Senate after passing in the House, and will not move forward.
The Senate finance committee chose to take no action on the measure Monday, the last day of the legislative session.
Del. Clarence K. Lam, the bill's sponsor, said he remains committed to seeing action on the issue.
"It's an important topic that touches on the safety of our communities through the next many years as the amount of crude oil we see on our rails continues to increase exponentially," said the freshman legislator, a Democrat who represents parts of Baltimore and Howard counties.
Lam's bill would have required the MDE to study the risks of crude oil and the railroads to publicly disclose crude oil shipment volumes in the state, but not routes or frequencies of trains carrying the material. Lam said the bill received bipartisan support in the House but has faced skepticism in the Senate finance committee, including from Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, the committee chair.
Rail shipments of crude oil have come under increased scrutiny in recent years following several derailments in the U.S. and Canada that have killed dozens of people, forced the evacuation of small towns and dumped oil into the nation's waterways. Environmentalists in Maryland have expressed concern that a similar derailment in Maryland could have severe consequences for the Chesapeake Bay, and residents in Baltimore have rallied opposition to a business proposal to begin crude oil operations in the Fairfield area.
Millions of gallons of crude oil already move through the state each year, including on rails that pass through several small Cecil County towns, though the full amount is unknown. Railroads CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern supply information about volumes, routes and frequencies of such shipments to the state, but have sued the MDE to prevent it from disclosing that information to news media, including The Baltimore Sun. A trial in that case is scheduled for June 8.
Baltimore City Councilman Edward Reisinger has also expressed concern about crude oil in Baltimore, and said he plans to hold an informational session on the topic in City Hall after this legislative session concludes.
Skepticism of Lam's bill in Annapolis was "pretty broad," he said.
Middleton and others noted shipments of other volatile chemicals have not received similar state review and pointed to the fact that federal authorities have jurisdiction over railroad regulations, Lam said. They also questioned whether the study would be useful to first responders, who already receive information about crude oil shipments from railroad operators, Lam said.
Lam said federal authority over rail regulations shouldn't prevent the state from doing its own due diligence to ensure it understands the local risks, and said the rapidly increasing volume of crude oil in the state makes it something the state should look into regardless of its oversight of other chemicals. He also said he has been told by local first responders that additional information on such shipments gleaned from a state review "could not hurt."