Because of pressure from special-interest groups, some local elected officials have taken to calling for oil train bans
AS representatives of Washington’s law enforcement and agriculture communities, we would encourage a more thoughtful discussion on oil-train bans, one that includes the bigger economic picture for our state’s economy.
No one argues that rail safety must remain a top priority. Working together with the railroads and first responders, we will continue our vigilance in an effort to keep communities safe.
What’s at issue is the very foundation of our economy — trade — and the manner in which the vast majority of our agricultural and aerospace products are transported to foreign and domestic markets: by rail.
Agriculture is the state’s second largest export category, and we are the third largest food and agricultural exporter in the United States. Our apples, grains, milk products, beef and other commodities all rely on safe rail transport to export terminals. And for more than 100 years, trains have safely carried those products, along with oil, through Washington and the Western U.S.
Yet because of pressure from interest groups, some local elected officials have taken to calling for oil-train bans. [“Northwest communities can’t risk another oil train disaster,” Opinion, Sept. 8.] Not only are these bans illegal and unconstitutional (railroads are stringently governed by federal law), but they jeopardize rail transport of commodities that drive our trade status and economy.
In Spokane, where City Council members debated an oil-train issue this summer, the proposal was propelled by the same well-funded, out-of-state interest groups who are trying to shut down every new pipeline, rail line and power-plant project across the country in an effort to end fossil-fuel use. Widespread outrage and community protest prompted the council to smartly rescind the ordinance and remove it from the fall ballot.
Other communities in our state are battling similar proposals right now. As a result, good-paying jobs are threatened because of the anti-industrial efforts of a few outspoken groups. The chosen battleground isn’t Congress or the Legislature — it’s the local city or county councils. Once those types of skilled jobs are gone, they are very difficult to add back. And the losses can impact communities for generations.
What’s even more worrisome is the capriciousness of these proposed bans. Rail is a major employer in our state. Washington’s two largest railroads, Union Pacific and BNSF, provide more than 3,500 jobs, with an average salary of $78,000. These are good-paying jobs that help feed families, pay taxes and support our police, hospitals and schools. Each year, companies like BNSF make major investments in their rail lines to preserve, maintain and grow freight-rail capacity in our trade-dependent state.
Oil-train bans set a dangerous precedent with respect to our economy and industrial sector, singling out the unpopular commodity of the day. Today, it may be fossil fuels; tomorrow, it could be aerospace parts, health-care supplies or specific agricultural products.
It’s important to note we’re not the only ones who can do this. Other cities in other states could easily retaliate by banning Washington state commodities. Entire economic sectors could be eliminated in one fell swoop.
Whether you live in Spokane or Seattle, trade is what drives our economy here in Washington. Our ports, fed by a strong grid of rail lines, deliver a variety of commodities to all corners of the globe. And the actions of one community can have a profound impact on the rest of us who look at trade-related businesses and industries as the lifeblood of our economy.
We may be hundreds of miles apart on a map, but our rail system connects both sides of the Cascades in many big and small ways.