Rail shipments are hugely important to North Dakota’s economy.
Farmers and ranchers depend on the railroad infrastructure to bring their crops and livestock to market. The state’s manufacturers receive shipments of raw materials, and send out finished products, by rail.
The energy industry, too, depends on rail. The fraught political debate over pipeline infrastructure has often squeezed the capacity available for North Dakota’s oil fields. Rail is a flexible, if not optimal, way to get petroleum to market.
Given this importance, shouldn’t rail safety be paramount for North Dakota’s leaders?
A few fiery and explosive derailments of oil-by-rail shipments, including a very scary one near Casselton, created a new narrative for anti-oil activists to pounce on, and Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak, a Republican, sought funding from the Legislature to begin a state-run rail inspection program.
The federal bureaucracy is typically in charge of that, but their coverage leaves much to be desired.
State inspectors help them cover more rail.
But some of North Dakota’s lawmakers, even as they’ve funded the rail inspection program, have been hostile to it. Some of them would rather leave it to the federal government. Others resent the modest cost, which currently stands at just $600,000 for the two-year budget cycle. Every time the program is funded, a sunset provision is put in.
Fedorchak joins this episode of Plain Talk to talk about the success of the rail inspection program and the fight to keep it funded.
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