September 14, 2010 in Idaho

Subsidies on heavy shipments criticized

Lawmaker queries benefit to U.S.
By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE – An Oregon congressman is calling for a federal investigation into plans for oversize shipments of oil equipment across U.S. Highway 12 to Canada, saying he doesn’t want U.S. taxpayers subsidizing Canadian oil production.

“I am concerned about the ExxonMobil Canada plan to use U.S. roadways to haul oversize loads to Alberta, Canada, for the Kearl Oil Sands project,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, wrote to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood on Aug. 25. “If Idaho and Montana issue oversize and overweight load permits in violation of the Federal Bridge Formula, American taxpayers will pay the price for the unprecedented wear and tear on our highway system. I am opposed to subsidizing ExxonMobil oil sands mining in Canada with taxpayer dollars.”

DeFazio, who chairs a House subcommittee on highways, wrote that the only ones to benefit would be a Canadian oil company and the Korean manufacturer of the equipment.

Neither state has yet issued permits for the 200-plus loads that ExxonMobil plans to truck to Canada from the Port of Lewiston starting in November. But Idaho is locked in litigation now with ConocoPhillips over four similar oversize loads that the firm wanted to haul over the same route starting three weeks ago.

Residents and business owners along twisting Highway 12, which runs along the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers and is a nationally and state-designated scenic byway, sued to block the four shipments, and state District Judge John Bradbury revoked the permits. The Idaho Transportation Department and the oil company, which wants to move the four mammoth loads of equipment to its refinery in Billings, are appealing that decision to the Idaho Supreme Court, which will hear arguments Oct. 1.

Bradbury ruled that the ITD violated its own regulations in issuing the permits, because the trucks would block traffic for more than 10 minutes at a time by taking up both lanes of the two-lane highway, and because the state didn’t properly determine necessity for the loads and consider the public’s safety and convenience as a top priority. Residents who sued expressed concerns about public safety and impacts on tourism, business and the environment in the federally protected river corridor.

Jeff Stratten, Idaho Transportation Department spokesman, said the state wouldn’t violate federal laws in issuing oversize-load permits.

“The Idaho Transportation Departments reviews applications for trucks to haul over legal loads on its highways in accordance with all federal and state laws. This process is subject to both federal and state audits,” Stratten said in an e-mail. “Permits are only issued when the department is convinced all federal and state laws are being met by the hauler.”

DeFazio, who couldn’t be reached for comment Monday afternoon, recently told the Eugene Weekly, “I knew about tar sands. I knew about the extraction, but I didn’t know that anyone was intending to move super-giant-sized loads over roads and bridges in the United States to deliver machinery to extract tar sands in Canada. There are huge questions here, and this has been pretty much under the radar.”

DeFazio said he’s concerned about the use of federal grants to improve the Port of Lewiston to accommodate the Canadian oil project. “I just think that’s outrageous,” he told the weekly, which published an article about the issue in its Sept. 2 edition. “This is all to benefit one corporation and a foreign country.”

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