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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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State challenges new rule on moving liquefied natural gas by rail

UPDATED: Thu., Aug. 20, 2020

An oil train passes through downtown Spokane Aug. 11, 2017. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has now filed suit to prevent rail shipments of liquefied natural gas from passing through the state.  (JESSE TINSLEY)
An oil train passes through downtown Spokane Aug. 11, 2017. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has now filed suit to prevent rail shipments of liquefied natural gas from passing through the state. (JESSE TINSLEY)

Washington has joined other states in challenging new federal rules that would allow for liquefied natural gas to be transported by rail car.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the new rule allows nationwide transportation of a dangerous fuel which currently is not shipped by rail through Washington.

This summer, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced new rules which became final last month for rail shipments of liquefied natural gas. Those rules require certain safety standards, including tank cars with enhanced outer coverings that make them more puncture resistant, limits on the amount of liquefied gas a tank can carry and additional operational controls.

“Liquefied natural gas is a highly combustible fossil fuel, posing a risk of catastrophic accidents and spills,” Ferguson said in a news release announcing the lawsuit, which was filed by 14 states and the District of Columbia in a federal court in Washington, D.C. He said the federal government did not consider all the risks before changing the rule to allow the shipment of liquefied natural gas by rail.

The fuel is primarily shipped by trucks, boats or pipelines. Shipping by rail requires a special permit. The federal government says rail shipments are safe with the new regulations. Environmental groups call the shipments “bomb trains.”

Spokane previously opposed increased rail shipments of crude oil through the city but hasn’t yet taken up the issue of possible rail shipments of liquefied natural gas, City Council President Breean Beggs said Thursday. With the new rule, it may become a topic of discussion because of the explosive nature of that fuel and the fact that elevated train tracks run “through the heart of the city”, near downtown and passing Lewis and Clark High School and Deaconess Medical Center, Beggs said.

The city council proposed fining rail companies that shipped coal and oil through Spokane without certain safeguards, but voters rejected that ballot measure in 2017.

Beggs said the council took that action because the state was not willing to address its concerns. The Legislature has since passed new laws on some rail shipments, and the city might leave concerns about liquefied natural gas to the attorney general and the lawsuit.

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