Crude oil train safety regulator steps down

The head of the federal agency tasked with improving the safety of crude oil transportation by rail is stepping down.

Cynthia Quarterman, who has led the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration since 2009, will leave an agency that recently proposed sturdier construction standards for tank cars carrying flammable liquids such as crude oil and ethanol, and improved testing and classification of those products.

Quarterman’s agency has faced criticism from community leaders and some members of Congress that it did not react switfly and forcefully enough to a series of derailments of trains carrying crude oil, starting with a fiery accident in Quebec last year that killed 47 people.

In a statement Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx praised Quarterman.

“Most people rarely think about how the energy they need to heat their homes and fuel their cars reaches them,” Foxx said, “but for the last five years, Cynthia Quarterman has been committed to ensuring these products travel the country safely.”

Rep. Rick Larsen, a Washington Democrat whose district includes refineries that recieve crude oil in trains, has met with Quarterman to discuss the proposed safety improvements. He said the new rules couldn’t wait.

“These safety rules need to get over the finish line, and I’m confident Secretary Foxx and his team will remain focused on having a final rule by the end of the year,” Larsen said in a statement Wednesday.

The agency shares responsibility with the Federal Railroad Administration with regulating shipments of hazardous materials by rail.

Before the Senate confirmed her nomination in November 2009, Quarterman practiced law for a decade at Steptoe & Johnson, a large Washington firm that represents industries in regulatory matters. Quarterman’s clients included rail and pipeline companies.

Quarterman was a member of the transition team for President Barack Obama. She also was director of the Minerals Management Service in the Clinton administration.

The reasons for Quarterman’s resignation weren’t immediately clear, nor was it known who might succeed her. In the interim, it could be the agency’s deputy administrator, Tim Butters, a firefighting veteran who’s well regarded in emergency response circles.