We need our elected leaders to use every bit of their power to protect communities that have few defenses from coal and oil trains.
IT has been three months since 47,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil spilled when a Union Pacific oil train derailed, crashed, and piled up in a national scenic area along the Columbia River in Mosier, Ore. The derailment, fire and potential for catastrophic explosion were another wake-up call for the communities trapped between the Bakken crude-oil wells and destinations on the West Coast — including proposed export terminals. We are in grave danger.
As elected officials from these cities caught in the middle, we are deeply concerned by the risks that oil trains pose to our neighborhoods, drinking-water supplies, businesses, schools and entire communities. There are no jobs that come from moving oil trains through our cities, no revenue to support disaster recovery, only burdens, such as air pollution, traffic delay and uncertainty about when and where a disaster will happen next.
We cannot accept being the doormat for the oil industry and will not be quiet when it comes to protecting our residents.
The Spokane City Council’s recent effort to allow voters to stop oil and coal trains, while ultimately stymied by legal complications, should be praised. That type of instinct, to take action and explore every tool that might be available, has become necessary to protect our communities. As the Washington State Council of Firefighters wrote in a letter to the Spokane City Council on Aug. 10, the disaster in Mosier made it clear that “an immediate halt” to Bakken crude oil by rail has never been more urgent. However, as cities stuck in the middle, we know we cannot take on the fossil-fuel industry alone.
We applaud jurisdictions with control over oil-terminal expansions that have passed ordinances that don’t allow crude oil terminals.”
We applaud jurisdictions with control over oil-terminal expansions that have passed ordinances that don’t allow crude oil terminals, such as the cities of Hoquiam, Aberdeen and Vancouver. And we greatly appreciate the work of Whatcom County to implement a moratorium on any new permit applications as it considers a more permanent solution. We are encouraged by local leaders like Deputy Mayor Ryan Mello of Tacoma, who recently said that fossil-fuel export projects should be “off the table.”
We also commend Govs. Jay Inslee and Kate Brown of Oregon, and U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who are pushing for new safety rules and inspections.
Despite all these efforts, we continue to face a critical risk to the health and safety of our communities and the water and land we depend on. Stopping new terminals, while an important step, will not stop the existing oil trains that run through our communities every day. And fossil-fuel trains, even after promises of improvement, remain a clear and present danger.
We refuse to become the next Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, where 47 people were killed, while waiting for a disaster-proof oil train.
We need to talk to our neighbors and speak out together about our concerns and apply pressure at every level.
We need to take practical steps to address climate change by transitioning away from oil and accelerating the shutdown of coal-fired power plants in the Northwest.
We need our governors and state legislatures to implement every possible measure in their power to protect communities, like ours, that have few defenses from coal and oil trains.
Ultimately, we need the president, with the support of Congress, to put an end to fossil-fuels movement by rail.
Protecting our communities from oil and coal trains requires a renewed commitment to action and local, state and federal legislators and executives working together.
As the communities hemmed in by fossil-fuel trains, and with the threat of another Mosier-type crash hanging over us, we can’t wait any longer.