Tag Archives: King County Executive Dow Constantine

Swinomish tribe sues to permanently ban Bakken oil trains

Repost from The Seattle Times

Swinomish tribe sues to block Bakken oil trains

A federal lawsuit filed by the Swinomish Indian tribe seeks to ban BNSF Railway from transporting Bakken crude oil across tribal lands. The line in question carries oil trains to the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes.

By Hal Bernton, April 7, 2015 at 8:37 pm, Updated April 8, 2015 at 12:10 pm
A view of the Tesoro refinery, as seen from Cap Sante lookout in Anacortes. Photographed on July 16, 2012. (John Lok / The Seattle Times)
A view of the Tesoro refinery, as seen from Cap Sante lookout in Anacortes. Photographed on July 16, 2012. (John Lok / The Seattle Times)

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community on Tuesday went to federal court to block BNSF Railway from sending 100-car oil trains through reservation lands, claiming the company is violating an easement that sharply restricts rail traffic.

The easement signed by the railway’s predecessor company in 1991 permits only two trains a day of 25 cars or less from transiting the reservation. It also calls for the railroad company to get permission from the tribe to increase traffic.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle asks the court to permanently ban the railroad from shipping Bakken shale crude oil across tribal land, asserting that the railroad never sought permission for the oil trains.

“A deal is a deal,” said Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby in a statement released Tuesday. “Our signatures were on the agreement with BNSF, so were theirs. So was the United States. But despite all that, BNSF began running its Bakken oil trains across the reservation without asking, and without even telling us.”

The Swinomish rail line that traverses tribal land on Fidalgo Island enables trains to reach a Tesoro refinery in nearby Anacortes.

A BNSF spokesman, in a statement released Tuesday said, “We have received the complaint and are reviewing it.”

The tribal lawsuit is part of an intensifying backlash in Washington and elsewhere in North America against shipping Bakken shale crude from North Dakota and Montana. Production from those fields has surged with the development of new fracking techniques.

Since 2013, a series of train derailments resulted in fiery explosions of Bakken crude, with four of those accidents occurring since early February. Bakken crude has a higher volatility than many other crudes, due to elevated levels of gases such as ethane, propane and butane

At Seattle’s Emergency Operations Center on Tuesday, Mayor Ed Murray, King County Executive Dow Constantine and other officials joined U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to discuss threats posed by these accidents.

“In Canada nearly two years ago, a mile-long train derailed and the ensuing explosion cost 47 people their lives,” Cantwell said. “That blast leveled a half-mile radius. If that happened in Seattle, the effects would be catastrophic.”

“In Seattle, an incident of this type could impact tens of thousands of residents.”

Cantwell introduced legislation last month that would require the federal Transportation Department to regulate the volatility of crude oil shipped by trains.

The bill also would increase funding for first responders and require more disclosures from railroads about train routes. The railroads would also have to plan for worst-case derailment scenarios.

In Washington last year, up to 19 trains a week crossed parts of the state with crude oil that ends up at state or California refineries.

Some of those trains now cross Swinomish lands on the way to the Tesoro refinery. The number of those trains could rise if Shell gets approval for a rail facility at its refinery in Anacortes.

As the trains move through tribal lands, they pass close by a casino, a lodge and other development.

“Based on the demonstrated hazards” of Bakken shale crude, the tribe is “justifiably and gravely concerned” with the oil shipments, the lawsuit asserts.

The railroad’s 1991 easement across the reservation lands resulted from the settlement of an earlier tribal lawsuit that alleged that BNSF’s predecessor company was trespassing on their lands with its trains during most of the past century.

The settlement called for periodic railroad disclosures “as different products, or commodities, are added or deleted.” It also called on the tribe not to “arbitrarily withhold permission to increase the number of trains or cars when necessary to meet shipper needs.”

The crude-oil shipments across tribal lands began in late 2011, but tribal officials said they were never informed in advance, and have never authorized that train traffic.

“We told BNSF to stop, again and again,” Cladoosby said. “It’s unacceptable for BNSF to put our people and our way of life at risk without regard to the agreement we established in good faith.”

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    Washington Governor Inslee says state will act on oil trains

    Repost from The Olympian, Olympia Washington

    Inslee says state will act on oil trains

    By Andy Hobbs, November 21, 2014
    Representatives from Washington and Oregon gather at Olympia City Hall for the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance summit on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. TONY OVERMAN

    The number of oil trains running across Washington is unacceptable, and the Legislature will consider bills in the upcoming session that mandate advance notification of oil shipments by rail as well as more funding for railroad crossings and emergency response training, Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday.

    King County Executive Dow Constantine added that oil companies are raking in profits while “the rest of us are picking up the costs.”

    “Those who are profiting should shoulder the financial burden,” Constantine said.

    They were speaking to the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance that met Friday at Olympia City Hall to address the surge of oil and coal trains passing through Washington.

    The alliance is a coalition of local, state and tribal leaders from the Northwest who say the trains threaten the environment, economy and public safety.

    As shipments of oil increase in the Puget Sound region, so does the likelihood for spills and accidents. The Department of Ecology reports that 19 fully loaded oil trains crisscross the state every week, with the number expected to reach 59 oil trains if current refinery proposals are approved. Each train hauls about 3 million gallons of crude oil in 100 tanker cars. Between 11 and 16 trains pass through rural and suburban areas of Thurston and Pierce counties every week, according to reports from BNSF Railway.

    Participants in Friday’s meeting included elected officials from across the state along with Oregon and Canada.

    “It is clear that we have to take significant action including being better prepared to handle an oil train explosion or large scale spill,” Inslee said.

    Although the federal government is the main regulator of the railroads, Inslee said there are some actions the state can take now, such as lowering speed limits of the trains.

    “We don’t want vehicles speeding through school zones, and we shouldn’t let oil trains speed through Washington cities,” said Inslee, noting that changes in state permits are at least a year away.

    Friday’s meeting included a detailed report on the coal industry by Tom Sanzillo, finance director of the Institute for Energy Economic and Financial Analysis. Sanzillo encouraged states and cities to keep putting pressure on the coal industry, which has seen demand and prices decline worldwide in the past few years.

    “The U.S. coal industry is shrinking,” said Sanzillo, adding that the industry needs “robust growth” to meet its potential and compete in the global market despite record demand for coal by nations like China. “Hooking your wagon to the coal industry is not a particularly promising outlook right now.”

    At the local level, Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said the City Council will seek a resolution next week to add Olympia to the list of cities that oppose the increase in crude oil transport.

    “We are at a crossroads,” Buxbaum said Friday. “We could see up to 60 trains a day and 4,000 supertankers in our waters.”

    As for the coal issue, Buxbaum recently co-authored a guest column titled “You might be surprised by Puget Sound Energy’s coal power supply” that ran Nov. 19 in The Seattle Times. Also signing the article were Bainbridge Island Mayor Anne Blair and Mercer Island Mayor Bruce Bassett, and all three mayors’ respective city councils endorsed it.

    The article urges Puget Sound Energy to take immediate action and plan for a “post-coal future.” About one-third of PSE’s power supply comes from coal that’s shipped from out of state, according to the article. The mayors also cite Gov. Inslee’s recent executive order to reduce pollution and transition away from coal power.

    “The bottom line is that we don’t need coal,” the article states. “The potential is there for Washington to meet its energy needs with efficiency programs, wind, solar and other technologies. We just need to rise to the occasion.”

     

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      Tacoma City Councilman and County Executive form Safe Energy Leadership Alliance, call for action

      Repost from The News Tribune, Tacoma WA

      Pierce County gets all risks, no rewards for surging oil train traffic

      By Ryan Mello and Dow Constantine, October 24, 2014
      Rail Delays
      An oil-tank train with crude oil from the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota travels near Staples, Minnesota, in April. MIKE CRONIN — The Associated Press file

      As this editorial page has noted, Washington has seen a stunning increase in the amount of Bakken crude oil transported on our railroads, to an estimated 2.87 billion gallons each year. Much of that highly flammable oil rolls across the central Puget Sound region, through downtown Tacoma and past Steilacoom in aging tank cars.

      The surge in train traffic has created an unprecedented risk to our people, our economy, our traffic and our environment. Our communities assume all of the risks while big oil companies get all of the rewards.

      There’s the immediate risk to public safety when flammable fuel passes through heavily populated areas like Tacoma and Seattle and past our neighborhoods, schools and parks. Since July 2013, there have been nine serious train derailments across North America – more than we experienced during the past four decades combined. An oil-train explosion last year in Quebec, Canada, killed 47 people and wiped out half a downtown area.

      There’s also the increased risk of oil spills contaminating Puget Sound and undermining the progress we’ve made in waterfront development and cleaning up the Foss Waterway. It’s a scenario we saw earlier this year when an oil train spilled more than 20,000 gallons of crude oil into the James River just outside Lynchburg, Virginia.

      We work hard to ensure that our first responders have the equipment and training they need to respond to oil-train derailments, spills and fires. But we need state and federal action to prevent these potentially life-threatening tragedies from occurring in the first place.

      That is why we brought together more than 100 other elected leaders from across the Northwest and British Columbia to form the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance. It’s a broad coalition of local leaders from urban and rural areas who share a mission to better understand the potential safety and economic impacts from oil and coal trains, and call for stronger safety standards.

      Having multiple mile-long trains – each carrying 3 million gallons of crude oil – roll through Pierce and King counties snarls our traffic and makes it more difficult for our emergency personnel to respond to calls. The proposed increase in oil traffic would also harm our local businesses, manufacturers and farmers who rely on our limited rail capacity to transport their goods to overseas markets.

      Displacing Washington state agriculture and manufactured products that create jobs to make way for crude oil would benefit only oil companies.

      Perhaps what’s most concerning is that there is the potential for all of these risks and impacts to substantially increase over the next six years if proposed facilities are built along the Pacific coast.

      The Department of Ecology estimates that the amount of crude oil that comes through our state could triple – to nearly 9 billion gallons each year – by 2020. The number of fully loaded oil trains that cross our state each week could go from 19 to more than 100 within the next few years.

      That’s why we applaud Gov. Jay Inslee for fast-tracking the state’s Marine and Rail Oil Transportation study and the Department of Ecology for hosting a public meeting Thursday in Olympia (see box). This study shines a light on the risks and costs to our communities, and makes recommendations to strengthen disclosure of hazards and emergency preparedness.

      We urge our state lawmakers to act swiftly on these recommendations, and enact provisions that maintain public safety. The costs to protect our communities and prevent delays in rail crossings should fall to the oil industry and not local governments.

      Our long-term goal is to establish the Northwest as a global exporter of clean energy. In the meantime, we will work together to ensure that oil and coal companies don’t take up our limited rail space, put our communities at risk and harm our local economy.

      Tacoma City Councilman Ryan Mello and King County Executive Dow Constantine are members of the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance.
      Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/10/24/3448437_pierce-county-gets-all-risks-no.html?sp=/99/447/&rh=1#storylink=cpy

       

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