June 3 marked one year since the oil train wreck, spill and fire in the Columbia River Gorge town of Mosier, Oregon, a few hours down the train tracks from Spokane. Over the past year, far too little has changed to protect towns like Mosier and cities like Spokane from oil trains. At the same time, new oil train terminals, such as the Tesoro-Savage facility proposed in Vancouver, are poised to multiply the threat.
Our water and land, our schools and businesses and the health and safety of our families and communities are at risk wherever oil trains run through town. One year out from the near-disaster in Mosier, we call on our state and federal representatives to stop oil trains and reject oil train terminals so that it can never be repeated. In doing so we add our voice to more than a million public comments fighting coal and oil transport through the Northwest that were delivered to Gov. Jay Inslee in May.
The groundwater near the train crash in Mosier, where about 47,000 gallons of oil spilled, is still contaminated despite an ongoing cleanup effort. In Spokane, train tracks that carry crude oil traverse the city’s water supply. The Mosier spill resulted in the loss of more than 60 mature trees and temporarily “killed” our wastewater treatment plant. The plant was the hero of the day, capturing an estimated 25,000 gallons of crude, yet a sheen of oil still spread into the Columbia River. In Spokane, train bridges show signs of distress, and an oil train spill into the Spokane River would be a disaster for the city.
Oil trains are a threat to public safety that cannot be fully mitigated. A few months after the derailment, Mosier Fire Chief Jim Appleton wrote in The Spokesman-Review that oil trains “should be declared unsafe and illegal,” because “we simply cannot handle the risk of oil by rail.” Even in the unlikely event that a derailment like Mosier never happens again, we are still vulnerable to pollution from coal and oil trains.
The one-year anniversary of the oil train derailment in Mosier is a potent reminder that Spokane and all communities along the tracks are at risk. The derailment woke us up to exponential pressures of crude oil transport if proposed terminals are allowed in the Northwest and California. Spokane and the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area could be transformed into a superhighway for fossil fuel export.
Gov. Inslee will soon decide whether the Tesoro Savage Corp. should receive permission to build the largest oil train terminal in the history of the United States. The facility would generate an additional five 100-car oil trains daily. The final hearing on air quality was Wednesday. The governor will be given a recommendation on the project.
Elsewhere, all around us, oil corporations are still scavenging for sites to build oil export terminals. In Portland, Global Partners is seeking to acquire oil storage tanks, potentially for another oil storage facility, and the Canadian government recently gave the go-ahead to the Kinder Morgan pipeline, which would send oil tankers through the Puget Sound.
But the people are fighting back. A new government in British Columbia was recently elected with a promise to fight Kinder Morgan, and the Portland City Council recently passed policies to prohibit bulk fossil fuel facilities and to go 100 percent renewable.
We will not forget what happened in Mosier. We cannot let down our guard. As neighbors and Northwest cities and towns that value our health and our communities, we must band together to stop oil terminals and accelerate the transition to renewable energy. The technology is now available and worldwide investment has already shifted away from fossil fuels.
We are poised in the Northwest to embrace and implement new sources of clean energy that are crucial for the future of not only our communities but of life on the planet. It’s up to us to lead the way.
Andy Van Hees is a Millwood city councilman. Arlene Burns is the mayor of Mosier, Oregon.
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