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Feds say "no" to Delaware's oil train idling law

Delaware Public Media

Delaware lawmakers’ attempt to limit the idling of oil trains passing through the state has been derailed by the federal government.

The Surface Transportation Board ruled this week that a law passed by the General Assembly last June to reduce noise and air pollution for residents living near oil train lines violates the federal government’s jurisdiction over rail carriers.

The new law banned trains from idling between the hours of 8 pm and 7 am, unless necessary for the crew safety or work-related electrical or mechanical operations.

The bill’s sponsor, Senate Majority Leader David McBride (D-Hawk's Nest) , calls the ruling highly disappointing.  


“I understand the federal government’s responsibility for rail travel," said McBride. "It’s an interstate issue, interstate commerce, but at the same time, the states ought to be able to have some kind of control over nuisance and hazardous situations for their constituency.”

McBride adds he felt the scope of the law was limited enough to pass muster.

“The key to the whole issue is the term essential versus non-essential," McBride noted. "We weren’t saying anything about when essential to run the trains and they need to have the engines running. What we were concerned about was the non-essential element of this issue when they’re sitting the trains out there for two or three days with the engines running continuously.”

In its ruling, the board said the law constitutes Delaware “directly managing railroad operations” by substituting its judgment for the railroads’ regarding when trains need to idle, arguing what the First State considers non-essential may be important for the proper train operation.

The bill had broad support in the General Assembly, passing the House by a 33-4 vote and the Senate by a 13-7 margin.  Gov. Jack Markell signed the bill into law last August.

McBride and other lawmakers are asking Attorney General Matt Denn to appeal the decision. The AG's office Friday declined to comment on the issue.

Tom Byrne has been a fixture covering news in Delaware for three decades. He joined Delaware Public Media in 2010 as our first news director and has guided the news team ever since. When he's not covering the news, he can be found reading history or pursuing his love of all things athletic.
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