350 Spokane supports the proposition to make coal and oil (Bakken oil is at least 1/3 more explosive than gasoline) trains safer when they run through our downtown on elevated tracks with several bridges.  These trains are so long that one train can be seen stretched from Sprague and Division to Second and Maple.

Sunday, Oct. 8 the Spokesman-Review featured their Roundtable on
“Local control over fuel trains.”  Read the pro and con of Prop Two here.

Here are some additional points on Prop Two to address the “Con” part of the Roundtable written by Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.

Sheriff Knezovich says there are no safety guidelines in the proposition. Huh? That would be the covering of coal and the stabilization of oil. That IS the gist of the safety in this proposition. It’s not a guide line; it’s a direct, specific, common sense way to make things safer.

How is Prop Two disrupting rails? It doesn’t stop coal or oil it just conditions how they travel through Spokane, not if they travel. It doesn’t stop other commodities from coming through our city.   Mr. Knezovich makes no argument with any sort of data at all about this claim.

How would 500 BNSF jobs be compromised? No one is stopping fossil fuels from coming through Spokane. No railroad employee will lose a job because oil is conditioned and coal cars are covered. In fact, conditioned oil and not letting coal fly all over the tracks makes it safer for BNSF employees on the trains, especially since their trains are over a mile long. Rail labor has  many concerns about rail safety. Here is one of the newsletters from Railroad Workers United  that speaks to some of the many ways that railroads can make tracks and trains safer. The railroads frequently thwart many of these attempts. In addition, the rail car industry is slow on upgrades.

It’s the job of railroads to take care of their own infrastructure. Spending money on track maintenance and safety has to happen whether they carry tiddlywinks or oil. BNSF is doing nothing out of the ordinary that they would not already do. Track maintenance is their job!

And where is the data that this proposition will move all coal and oil to trucks on the highway?  Based on a conservative cost of $2.10 per mile (minimum) X the 1138 miles from Williston, ND to Anacortes, WA X 280 trucks per unit train = $669,144 for shipping the equivalent of a train load of oil by truck.  The industry claims that shipping by truck is about 10 times more expensive than by rail, so the cost of a train shipment would be about $66,914.  (We don’t have any figures for the ACTUAL cost for shipping a trainload. BNSF won’t tell anyone.  But, estimates put it in the range of $100,000.) So the cost difference is roughly $600,000.  The cost to stabilize that amount of oil would be around $55,800 to $111,600.

Shipping products via rail is common sense. It’s a great way to do it. Let’s ship more products and humans, too. But if railroads, and oil and coal companies want to keep shipping fossil fuels they need it do is safely. They can afford it.  It’s far more likely for oil to be shipped via pipeline than truck.

The Sheriff claims we need to focus on our community’s highest priorities like increasing public safety, filling potholes, reducing crime, etc. No one is against solving those problems. Saying that lawsuits will take away our ability to fill potholes and fight crime is mentioned in the no on Prop Two literature. It comes across as being scary, but has no data. Remember the old Wendy’s commercial?  Where’s the beef? There’s no beef to this claim.  Oil trains through the heart of our city are a part of a public safety issue since one explosion and fire would be extremely devastating in terms of lives, livelihoods, and the economy.   Google oil trains explosions if you want to see some beef.

And it’s disheartening that the Sheriff seems more concerned with being pro fossil fuels than to really attending to his duties of reducing crime, and just doing his job as he was elected to do. It’s also not his job to make sure roads are maintained.  He has his own political agenda for higher office (throwing his hat in to run for office when many people thought Cathy McMorris Rodgers would become the next Sec. of the Interior).

We know Knezovich grew up in a coal family in Wyoming and coal paid for his college education. He appreciates that and we understand his loyalty.  Whole communities in places like Wyoming exist because of fossil fuels. But coal especially, has become a stranded asset and it is just last century.  It’s extremely bad for human health.  We don’t need coal in our air, landing on buildings or in waterways. The way through this is a just transition for those workers and towns to cleaner and more sustainable forms of energy.  Having them hang on to a dying industry does them no economic good, and it harms them even more.

Safer Spokane is about a group of dedicated citizens who are all volunteers. No one in the group is a mouthpiece for any corporation. They have a sincere right as community members to help make Spokane a safer place. With all the oil train derailments that have happened and will happen, Spokane is at too great a risk.  There are many “issues” that citizens can engage in and care about.  And many do. Safer Spokane volunteers choose this one, which is a totally legitimate threat to our community.

They don’t have the money from UP, BNSF, Tesoro Savage, Lighthouse Resources, Inc. and Better Spokane that the No on Prop Two campaign does.   Tesoro-Savage is proposing the largest crude by rail facility in North America at the Port of Vancouver. Lighthouse Resources  is 100% owner of the proposed coal terminal at Longview, WA. Updates on these facilities will be provided in another blog soon.

What’s really happening is that the railroads and the oil and coal companies don’t want a seasoned bunch of Spokane activists and voters to tell them what to do. And these corporations have a lot of federal political clout they don’t want to give up, and several million dollars as weapons. They want more!  It’s not democratic to be a bully. If they really cared about Spokane, they could easily make these true safety changes. Or they could reroute their tracks around our city.


More information can be found at SaferSpokane.org and Facebook.com/SaferSpokane.

Spokane Talks On-line debate