Activists Want To Illegally Cut Off Millions From Trains Carrying Fossil Fuels


A local regulatory fight in Spokane, Wash., between a public interest group and city councilman seeking to ban fossil fuel transportation within the city against business, community, and other interest groups may hold implications for much of the western U.S.

Safer Spokane is pushing Proposition 2, a ballot initiative that if passed would require coal cars to be enclosed and outlaw some types of oil from being shipped by rail through downtown Spokane or within 2,000 feet of a hospital, school, or the Spokane River, according to a summary of Prop 2.

Companies caught violating the law would be fined $261 for every train car not up to standard.

“Such a fine would effectively ban the transportation of fossil fuels through the city, which is a major hub for shipping commodities through the West Coast,” executive director for the pro business advocacy group Better Spokane Michael Cathcart said in a conference call with reporters. “As a committee spokesman and as a community leader, I can say first hand that the impact to the Spokane economy would be dire.”

Safer Spokane claims the danger posed by “uniquely flammable” Bakken oil and the coal dust that drifts out of uncovered coal cars is costly to the environment and community without much of any tangible benefits.

Spokane “sees several uncovered coal trains a day, which leave a trail of slippery dust on the tracks, thus increasing the chances of train derailments,” the Safer Spokane website says. “By covering up the coal and reducing the flammability of the oil, both products could safely be shipped through the high density population of Spokane without risking a fireball in downtown Spokane and the destruction of its sole source of drinking water.”

Matt Ewers of Inland Empire Distribution Systems claims transport by train is the safest and most cost effective way to move commodities like coal and oil across the land.

“There is no better way to ship [fossil fuels],” Ewers said during the conference call.

“If the proposition passes and they are allowed to enforce the code, the other alternative would be to transport this product by truck,” Ewer continued. “One whole train is about 300 to 400 trucks. If you’re not transporting the product by rail, you are going to add all that truck traffic to the road. That’s going to create more greenhouse gas emissions, it’s going to create more congestion, it’s going to create other problems.”

Even if Proposition 2 receives widespread public support and passes the city council, the initiative may be derailed in the courts.

The federal Surface Transportation Board, by federal law, has sole regulatory control over trains and hazardous materials, making Proposition 2 passed by the Spokane city council unenforceable and illegal, E&E news reports.

“[Law enforcement officials] can’t enforce something that is illegal or unconstitutional,” Spokane County Sherriff Ozzie Knezovich told The Daily Caller News Foundation during the conference call.

“This is not about public safety. It has never been about public safety. This is about an agenda and they should have just been honest with everybody in that it’s about climate change,” Knezovich said.

Safer Spokane did not respond to a request to comment.

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