Spokane leaders still looking to fine coal, crude oil trains

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A photo of the June 3 crude oil train derailment in Mosier, Ore.
Associated Press
SPOKANE, Wash. — City leaders in Spokane are looking at new ways to keep coal and crude oil trains from operating through their city limits. After tabling a proposed a rule that would fine railroads for running oil and coal trains through Spokane, city leaders now say they want to fine the shippers and not the railroads.

Spokane City Councilman Breean Beggs crafted the proposal. He claims the new law was written to appease railroads. The original ordinance called for a fine of more than $260 per railcar, while the revised law targets the shippers instead.

Beggs hopes the law will pressure the federal government to increase the safety standards for crude-by-rail and coal shipments.

In response, BNSF Railway spokesperson Courtney Wallace says the new ordinance still seeks to wrest regulatory control from Congress and would not withstand a legal challenge.

“This is pre-empted by federal law,” says Wallace in an article appearing in The Spokesman-Review. “It’s still regulating railroad traffic.”

Union Pacific spokesperson Justin Jacobs says “shipping crude-by-rail is the safest mode of land transportation,” in response to Beggs’ proposed ordinance.

Beggs alleges that his ordinance does not infringe on Congress' authority and the U.S. Department of Transportation to regulate Interstate commerce. Instead, he cites a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case from June 2003 that grants local governments the ability to establish safety standards for railroads that present a “local safety hazard,” according to the article.

“This is different than other bans,” says Beggs. “This uses language from the federal statute.”

In order for the ordinance to appear on the November 2017 ballot, it would first need to require about 2,700 signatures of Spokane voters.
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