October 28 & 30 Rallies & Hearings on Washington Marine & Rail Oil Transportation Study


Spokane: Tuesday, October 28, 5 to 10 pm

The doors to the public hearing room at the Hilton Double Tree Hotel, 322 North Spokane Falls Court, open at 5 pm. Gather at the Riverfront Park Rotary Fountain at 5 pm for a rally with music, youth climate ambassadors, and other dynamic speakers, then march three blocks to the hearing, where public comment begins at 6 pm and a hospitality suite will provide snacks.

Olympia: Thursday, October 30, 5 to 10 pm

The hearing room doors at the Red Lion Inn, 2300 Evergreen Park Drive SW, open at 5 pm. Meet outside for a coastal jam session at 4 pm and for a rally and music at 5 pm, before a Department of Ecology presentation at 6 pm and public input starting at 6:30 pm.

On October 1, 2014, the Washington state Department of Ecology released for public review the 2014 Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study Preliminary Findings and Recommendations Report, which assesses the serious health, safety, and environmental risks and impacts of the onslaught of Northwest oil shipments by rail and vessel [1]. When the 2014 Washington Legislature failed to pass a bill assuaging growing concerns about more volatile and unpredictable crude oil traffic, lawmakers directed and funded the state agency to conduct the study in April 2014.  Governor Jay Inslee issued a directive in June 2014, outlining key components of the study designed to identify regional oil transportation risks, regulatory gaps addressing these risks, and possible state actions to reduce risks.  For this research, the administration-appointed Department of Ecology consulted the Federal Railroad Administration, the Washington Department of Transportation, the Utilities and Transportation Commission, and the Military Department’s Emergency Management Division [2].  If the state adopts an aggressive regulation plan in its final report due to the Legislature in March 2015, which will guide state agency, executive, and legislative actions, industry could mount legal challenges.

Although this draft report intricately describes the vulnerabilities of Washington sacrifice-zone communities and resources to the explosive, toxic dangers of existing oil train traffic and proposed port facilities, and thus supports citizens’ and firefighters’ demands for an immediate moratorium on rail-shipped crude, it flagrantly dismisses these hazards potentially affecting tribal treaty rights, public infrastructure, and the regional economy as secondary to the focus of the study [3]. The report partially conducted by the only paid railroad consultant, Mainline Management – comprised of retired, career Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) corporate executives with former BNSF, Port of Vancouver, and Washington Public Ports Association clients – incorrectly seeks to normalize the new risks of unconventional extreme energy extraction and transportation as simply additional threats augmenting decades of similar rail and ship activities that can be mitigated.

Even worse, this study defers to federal authorities regulating interstate commerce, relinquishing state leverage of railroad and ship traffic to national agencies such as the industry-dominated, inspection capacity-challenged Federal Railroad Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard. It insufficiently suggests actions to protect public waters and their changing dynamics from the risks of tar sands oil shipments and increased tanker passage.  While state and federal agencies declare the environmental non-significance of Northwest coal and oil terminals and the report promotes further investigation but sidesteps safety precautions to avert catastrophes, regional fossil fuel freight and facilities proliferate, and bulk commodity and passenger rail service suffer.  Attempting to deter widespread resistance to policies ensuring climate chaos, the study authors overlook significant, statewide opposition to proposed oil terminals, misused public ports, expanding oil refineries, risky oil trains and ships, and bureaucratic collaboration in transformation of the Northwest rail system into a permanent, global carbon pollution export corridor.  Did they consider the best interests of Washingtonians over those of private industry in this report that recommends implementation of several procedures costing more than $13 million?

With the present number of 19 loaded trains each week carrying diluted Alberta tar sands and fracked Bakken shale crude through northern Idaho and Spokane possibly doubling or even tripling by 2020, rail line residents rightfully fear the consequences of spilled bitumen sinking to the bottom of waterways, like during the 2010 Kalamazoo River pipeline leak, and derailed Bakken “bomb trains” igniting life-threatening explosions and fires in mile-wide “blast zones” around train tracks, as in the July 2013 Lac Megantic disaster [4-6].

But BNSF, other railroads, and Big Oil still unreasonably argue that replacing outdated oil cars with sturdier tankers in two years, instead of their proposed ten-year deadline, is impossible, although some manufacturers and refineries are already eliminating the older cars. Bakken crude vapors that ignite at lower temperatures than conventional heavy oil gases “require thicker tank shells, puncture-resistant shields, and stronger valve fittings to prevent spills that could easily explode.” [5]  The railroad and oil industries also insist that disclosing records of these hazardous fuel shipments to emergency responders and the public would compromise their safety and expose proprietary commercial information to competitors.  Idaho and Washington rail line residents and officials are justifiably frustrated by a dearth of industry transparency, accountability, timely remedial action, and even a purposeful filibuster at a June 2014 Washington legislative hearing on oil train safety.

Since 2013, nine serious train derailments have spilled oil and unleashed explosions, more than during the last four decades. The massive surge of North Dakota fracked oil and Alberta bitumen has expanded oil transported by rail throughout the U.S. and Canada.  Proposals and ongoing endeavors to ship more oil overland to Washington refineries and ports could result in 850,000 barrels per day crossing the region, more than through the stalled Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  If proponents build huge, dusty, coal export terminals at Cherry Point and Longview, together handling 100 million tons of coal yearly, the cumulative impacts of more than 60 loaded and unloaded trains per day and 4,000 additional tanker ships annually could impose grave threats to community safety, public health, local businesses and economies, wildlife, and waterways and exacerbate the current climate crisis.

The Port of Olympia and 16 Washington cities from Spokane to Aberdeen and from Bellingham to Vancouver have passed resolutions of concern about recent and potentially increased, dangerous, volatile fossils fuels traversing the rails and waters of the region. Reducing the number of oil and coal trains, tankers, and barges, preventing construction of new coal and oil terminals, and immediately banning unsafe oil cars like the DOT111s that killed 47 Quebec residents would best limit the exorbitant risks and costs that Northwesterners now bear, while dirty energy companies profit.  Stronger, responsible, federal and state regulations should also mandate: full public disclosure of the content, location, and schedule of oil and coal trains; coordinated training and accessible cargo information and emergency equipment for first responders; slower train speeds through public parks and crossings; and better protections of waterways from oil spills and coal pollution, such as the tug boat escorts required for large ships and barges carrying hazardous freight in other West Coast states.

Instead of wasting public funds on expanded infrastructure and safety precautions for declining energy corporations, the Northwest should demonstrate the alternative energy leadership desperately necessary for global survival. Investing in 21st century clean energy technology and solutions and diversifying sustainable fuel choices for transportation and electricity generation must advance in every private and public sector.  Please do not miss these unique, critical, collective opportunities to comment on the 2014 Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study, to engage state leaders about the combined impacts of regional fossil fuel traffic, and to galvanize emerging partnerships and alliances around this issue among sovereign tribes, local governments, organized labor, and community resistance groups.

To assist your participation in respective Spokane and Olympia public hearings on October 28 and 30 – developing your testimony, expressing your concerns, talking with media personnel, and informing state responses to this significant situation – many groups have created and compiled specific talking points and message guidance [7-9, also see the Washington Oil Transportation Safety Hearings Testimony Reference Sheet]. Together, we are working to encourage enthusiastic and committed turnout that, like the Gateway Pacific coal terminal review, ensures that this study considers the entire region and the cumulative risks, threats, and impacts of both oil and coal transport to rail and terminal communities, public health and safety, alternative economies and resources, and lands and waterways from Lake Pend Oreille and the Spokane and Columbia rivers to Grays Harbor and the Salish Sea.

As insightful preparation for these rallies and hearings, hosts of two radio programs, Earth Matters Now! and Down To Earth, on the Spokane nonprofit community radio station KYRS are combining their broadcasts for a second time, to again discuss regional oil and coal transportation and this study with three great public servants.  On Tuesday, October 28, from 12 noon to 1:15 pm, Laura Ackerman, Paul Dillon, and Bart Mihailovich will talk with Spokane City Councilman Jon Snyder, Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, and King County Executive Dow Constantine.  Listen to this joint radio show at 88.1 and 92.3 FM or via the live-streamed podcast at http://www.kyrs.org.

Spokane: Tuesday, October 28, 5 to 10 pm

The doors to the public hearing room at the Hilton Double Tree Hotel, 322 North Spokane Falls Court, open at 5 pm. Gather at the Riverfront Park Rotary Fountain at 5 pm for a rally with music, youth climate ambassadors, and other dynamic speakers, then march three blocks to the hearing, where public comment begins at 6 pm and a hospitality suite will provide snacks.

Olympia: Thursday, October 30, 5 to 10 pm

The hearing room doors at the Red Lion Inn, 2300 Evergreen Park Drive SW, open at 5 pm. Meet outside for a coastal jam session at 4 pm and for a rally and music at 5 pm, before a Department of Ecology presentation at 6 pm and public input starting at 6:30 pm.

Tips for Providing Testimony

* Succinctly share your personal story, naturally integrating some of the shared talking points to emphasize key messages.

* Explain how oil and coal transport proposals specifically affect you and your family, business, and community.

* Name particular locations near you where oil and coal transport expose you and your community to risks and impacts.

Please circulate this message and facebook event pages among your social networks, invite your friends, wear red, and join Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT), a multitude of allied organizations, and hundreds of concerned citizens at one of these pre-hearing rallies and public hearings starting at 5 pm this Tuesday and Thursday! As WIRT coordinates successive oil train actions in Sandpoint and supportive Idaho and Washington communities, share your thoughts about the 2014 Washington state Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study preliminary report, through the lingering vestiges of participatory democracy.  Together, we need to demand more proactive regional protection from hazardous fossil fuel trains and tankers endangering communities and waterways with frequent derailments, accidents, spills, explosions, and loss of life and property.

For more information and to arrange Palouse carpools, get involved and please RSVP to WIRT at 208-301-8039 and this email address. Contact the Idaho Conservation League to travel from the Sandpoint area to this public hearing [10].  If you cannot attend, please send your draft report feedback through the Department of Ecology comment form [11].

No more oil, no more coal!

[1] 2014 Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study (Washington Department of Ecology)

[2] Oil Transport Study: Governor Inslee Hires Fox to Study Coop (October 4, 2014 Railing Against Crude)

[3] Inslee’s Draft Marine and Rail Oil Report: A Study in Mis-Direction (October 16, 2014 Railing Against Crude)

[4] Editorial: New Oil Rail Rules Must Ensure Accountability (October 15, 2014 Spokesman-Review)

[5] Port Has Valid Concerns about Oil Trains (October 23, 2014 Olympian)

[6] Oil Shipments across Washington Could Triple by 2020 (October 26, 2014 Spokesman-Review)

[7] Oil Transport Hearings: Message Points (Washington Environmental Council)

[8] Help Stop Dangerous Fossil Fuel Trains from Traveling through Your Community! (Sierra Club)

[9] Public Hearing: Help Stop Dangerous Fossil Fuel Trains! (October 12, 2014 Coal-Free Spokane)

[10] Safety of Oil-by-Rail Studied in Northwest (October 16, 2014 Idaho Conservation League)

[11] Public Comments for the 2014 Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study Preliminary Findings and Recommendations (Washington Department of Ecology)

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