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Wash. State Sen. Ericksen: Controversial Oil Trains 'Going To Be With Us For A While'

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Washington state environmental regulators are expecting a lively crowd in the coastal city of Hoquiam on Thursday when the public will get a chance to weigh in about increased crude oil train traffic. But one powerful state senator says the controversial oil trains are needed.

Developers are proposing side-by-side marine terminal expansions on Grays Harbor along the Washington coast. They would receive crude oil by rail from the Northern Plains and send it out by barge and tanker to West Coast refineries.

The move would add to the already fast-rising number of crude oil trains crossing the Northwest. Environmentalists, shellfish growers and coastal tribes are organizing in opposition.

But state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, says oil trains are "going to be with us for a while."

“Simply saying no — coming to a meeting and saying we just don't want any oil coming through Washington state — that's not realistic. It's not going to happen. That would actually be devastating to our economy, trying to prevent these crude oil stocks from moving to our refineries,” Ericksen said.

Ericksen, who represents a district that's home to two oil refineries, agrees oil train safety is a legitimate concern.

Environmental campaigners argue many of the rail cars carrying crude across the region are old, unsafe and pose grave risks to rail-side communities.

The city of Hoquiam and the Washington state Department of Ecology are jointly leading the environmental review of the planned crude oil terminals in Grays Harbor County. The public can take a look at the proposals and offer comments at Hoquiam High School this Thursday night, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. A second public meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday at Centralia High School.

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.