Wash. firefighters to Gov.: halt oil-train transport

Washington state firefighters unions want a moratorium on oil transport by rail until an investigation into last week's fiery derailment is done

By E.J. Smith III
The Seattle Times

SEATLLE — The president of a Washington state association of firefighters unions is urging Gov. Jay Inslee to halt oil transport through the state by rail until an investigation into last week's fiery oil-train derailment in Mosier, Ore., is done.

In a letter to the governor, Dennis Lawson, president of the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, cited the looming fire season and what he describes as unsafe transportation methods as reasons for the state Department of Transportation to suspend rail transport of "exceedingly difficult to extinguish" Bakken crude oil from North Dakota.

"What happened in Mosier could have just as easily happened in a population center like Spokane or Seattle, resulting in even greater tragedy," Lawson wrote.

Jaime Smith, communications director for Inslee's office, said in an email to a reporter that the governor shares the concerns. With help from Robert Duff, a senior policy adviser, the governor urged passage of strict federal safety legislation in 2015 but it failed in the U.S. Senate.

The legislation called for a lowered speed limit for trains, a faster transition to safer tank cars and protection against financial costs falling on communities affected by spills.

"We thought it (Congress) fell short in many areas," Duff said of measures that Congress ultimately did pass. Specifically, he said, "we were disappointed in the transition schedule in how long they (rail operators) had to get those old cars off the rails."

Regarding Lawson's request, the governor's office said Inslee does not have the authority to halt oil transportation through the state.

While it remains to be seen if even the strictest safety provisions could prevent an alarming incident like the one in Mosier, Duff said, the governor's office would like to see all safety precautions taken before declaring oil transportation unsafe.

"We're going to once again start pushing the federal government to do better," Duff said. "We'd like our considerations, that have been communicated, implemented. Before the government does all it can to make things safer, we won't have an answer to" whether oil should be transported.

Lawson said the summer months are a particular concern.

"The upcoming summer fire season is shaping up to be another dry and dangerous one," he wrote in the letter. "Resources will be stretched thin, and evidence keeps growing that there is no safe way to transport Bakken crude."

In the June 5 incident at Mosier, 16 tank cars derailed, which led to the evacuation of about 100 people from a nearby mobile-home park. The town also experienced disruption in its water and sewage systems, forcing some to boil their drinking water the day after the incident.


(c)2016 The Seattle Times

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