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Inslee’s Oil Transportation “Safety” Act

Dan Leahy on what it is and what it’s not

Roughly sixty-million gallons of volatile crude oil passes through Washington every week, and over a million gallons of crude oil was spilled from trains in North America in 2013, more than the previous 30 years combined. Numerous explosions also occurred, including the explosion in Quebec that killed 47 people. WA Senate Democrats

In the first week of the 2015 legislative session, Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County, and Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, introduced Governor Jay Inslee’s request oil transportation legislation to the state Senate (SB 5087).   WA Senate Democrats

Unprecedented amounts of oil are traveling along the rails of Washington state, through our rural areas and downtowns and along our coastlines,” Rolfes said. “Right now, it is impacted communities and the taxpayers of Washington who bear all of the risk and responsibility in the event of an accident. This legislation simply shifts some of the burden of spill prevention and response onto those that profit from oil transportation.

Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County

This bill is not about the safe transportation of crude oil

…by rail, as has been demanded by cities and citizens across Washington state.

The railroad or “tank car” is barely mentioned in the bill. It even exempts the railroad from participation in its “spill prevention plan.” In Section 5 (2) the bill lists eleven items that must be in a spill prevention plan submitted by an onshore or offshore facility receiving crude oil, but then in subsection (3) the bill states “Plan requirements in subsection (2) of this section are not applicable to railroad cars while transporting oil over rail lines of this state.”

The railroad is mentioned in relationship to providing advance notice of when oil is transferred to a terminal. (Section 11, 7b). The information provided is then published quarterly on the DOE website. It covers location, volume, place of origin, number of rail cars and “number and volume of oil spills on route” (Section 9). If someone thinks the availability of this information on the DOE website will make the people living in communities next to terminals “safer”, I have a bridge for them in Brooklyn. Cheap.

Not one word of the testimony to the Governor about how to improve rail safety by the Legislative Board of the Locomotive Engineers’ union is reflected anywhere in this “safety” legislation. Nothing about the inexperienced, inadequately trained railroad employees, single person train crews, chronic and acute fatigue, absence of track maintenance commensurate with number of heavy tonnage trains, inadequate regulation and rulemaking by the Federal Railroad Administration, inadequate Whistle blower protection, etc.

The fact that this bill contains nothing that will improve the safety of crude by rail is testimony to the fact that DOE’s rail consultant for its study and subsequent legislation were former corporate officers of BNSF, Mainline Management, Inc.

This bill is not about prevention

…even though in Section 3 (2) the bill states, “The legislature finds that prevention is the best method” and its “primary objective … is to achieve a zero spills strategy.”

If prevention were the goal, the Legislature would heed the words of its First Responders and call for “a halt (to) the movement of this crude by rail” until “the determination that this crude by rail can be moved safely through our cities and rural areas. (WSCFF resolution 14-33).

If prevention were the goal, the Legislature would heed the words of the cities such as Vancouver who opposes the massive Tesoro terminal at the Port of Vancouver or the cities of Aberdeen, Montesano, Elma, Westport, the Port of Olympia and the Quinault Nation who oppose the three proposed oil terminals at the Port of Grays Harbor.

If prevention were the goal, this language in Section 3 would have to be changed. “These shipments (of oil) are expected to increase in the coming years.” The Legislature would have to take some responsibility for halting that increase by stopping the proposed oil terminals and expanding refineries.

“Best achievable protection” (Section 1) is not prevention. This language says we will take the risk and mitigate later. This language replaces the precautionary principle. That principle says if we think something is dangerous (plenty of language in this bill that says it is), we say “no” and ban it until we know it is safe. “Best achievable protection” allows oil interests to trump common sense; it substitutes reason and caution for breathless rhetoric and turns communities into sacrifice zones for the 1%.

This bill is not about making us safe

…from the volatile, explosive nature of the North Dakota Bakken shale oil being transported throughout our state, nor about increased risk of explosions due to increased rail traffic.

There is not one word in this legislation about the explosions that have taken place in Lac Megantic, Casselton and other places nor how the Legislature intends to protect us from those explosions. The First Responders have already testified, as have many Fire Departments, that fighting such an explosion or fire is beyond their capacities.

This bill sells “safety” in the guise of spill response. It is about raising funds for spill clean up of the marine environment and the threat of waterborne oil transport. The bill taxes at the point oil is being transferred to terminals. It places those funds in two accounts, the oil spill response fund and the oil spill prevention fund. (Section 19). It presumes spills. The main contractor for this legislative study was a spill consultant, Environmental Research Consulting of Cortland Manor, NY. They received $250,000 of the $300,000 allocated by the Legislature.

As there is for the marine environment, there is no commensurate “special concern” for the agricultural land, the wheat, fruit, dairy or land that these oil trains pass through nor the danger these trains pose for the non-marine related environment such as eastern Washington rail towns or those towns along the I-5 corridor.

What this bill does do

… is make the Governor’s approval of new terminals at the Port of Vancouver and the Port of Grays Harbor “safe.”

It adds “the Columbia River and Grays Harbor” to language about Puget Sound. (Section 3) and (Section 16). The only reason for such language is the proposed oil terminals at the Port of Vancouver and the Port to Grays Harbor to be supplied by unit trains.

This legislation reinforces a decision to proceed with those terminals. This legislation, if passed, provides the supporters of those terminals, and the Governor himself, cover for approval. “Hey, Governor Inslee, now that you made those things “safe” it’s okay to approve them.” Approval means more trains, more dangers, more extraction, transport and burning of fossil fuels.

In exchange for a total of five oil tank farms, the communities of Grays Harbor and Vancouver may get an escort tug a piece for oil tankers and barges. (Section 16 & 17).

There is no equivalent “escort tug” trade off for communities not at a terminal site. They all get to wonder when that mile long train loaded with three million gallons of explosive Bakken fuel or Alberta tar sands bitumen is going to derail, explode, or pour into their fields and community.

This is not a theoretical problem. We know derailments and oil spills will happen. For the safety of our communities and economy, as well as the preservation of our environment, we need to pass this bill.

Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County

Dan Leahy is a Comandante in the Herioco Batallon de San Patricio and encourages all US citizens to read about the Mexican Revolution so they will know what a social revolution actually looks like. La Lucha sigue, Zapata vive.

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