The city council's planning committee is poised to approve a resolution next month condemning proposals to massively expand the number of trains transporting flammable oil, ultimately bound for Asia, through the Pacific Northwest.
"We're moving about 57 times as much oil by rail as we were in, say, 2009, 2008 [nationally]"—a mere five years ago—Sightline's Eric de Place told the committee,
The resolution, which, of course, is non-binding, would ask Washington state legislators to adopt rules requiring companies moving oil to disclose how much petroleum they're transporting, what type of petroleum products, and the frequency and duration of oil transports.
Seattle area state Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-46, N. Seattle) is sponsoring legislation that would do just that. The Democratic house passed the bill earlier this week and the Democratic minority in the state senate managed to block a watered-down version of the bill, making Farrell's version the main bill on the issue.
The city resolution also urges the federal government to improve safety regulations for tank design and operations, and asks state, federal, and local agencies to assess the impact oil trains will have on public safety, the environment, and the economy.
It also asks that any railroad company that operates on rail lines adjacent to the arenas or in tunnels underneath the city itself "consider restrictions on the shipment of petroleum products along those routes until adequate study" has determined that those shipments are safe.
Additionally, committee chair (and ardent environmentalist) Mike O'Brien said he'd like to add two more requests: A study of the impacts increased oil train transports will have on climate change; and a moratorium on new oil train permits in the state until "we better understand the implication of this 57-fold increase in a product that has been shown to be deadly."
And not in an abstract way. In Quebec, an explosion on a runaway oil train killed 47 people (in a town of just 6,000) last year. Similar trains also exploded in the past year in Alabama, North Dakota, and New Brunswick, although no one was killed in any of those incidents.
Representatives of the rail and shipping industries made the case at today's hearing that they're working voluntarily to improve the safety of oil shipments, and that if any new regulations are needed, they should be imposed at the federal level.
But their testimony was overwhelmed by an onslaught of folks concerned about the potential climate and safety impacts of oil trains, including a troupe of Raging Grannies, a Mount Baker resident who pledged to risk arrest over another controversial fossil-fuel project, the Keystone XL pipeline, and two teens who performed a folk song live with the refrain, "Please don't send exploding trains through our city."