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Should Coal And Oil Moving Through Spokane Be Fined? Voters To Decide

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Voters in Spokane are now weighing in on the future of coal and oil trains. An initiative on the local ballot would regulate coal and oil shipments by rail through specific areas of the city.

Proposition 2 would impose a $261 fine on every rail car carrying uncovered coal and some types of oil through Spokane.

Supporters believe safety is at the heart of the issue. Much of the crude oil that is shipped by rail and travels through Spokane is highly volatile. The Spokane Firefighter’s Union says if an oil train were to derail, that kind of accident could be devastating.

But Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich is against the initiative.

“I can tell you there some much more hazardous things that come across that rail,” Knezovich said. “If this were really about safety, it would be about everything. At least we can control a big fire. Chlorine, you can’t control where that’s going.”

Others contend the initiative is bad for business and would keep the city’s economy from growing. Some also question whether the initiative is legally defensible.

Spokane City Councilman Breean Beggs, an attorney, helped draft the language in the initiative and he says it is. 

“Congress passed a law that says local jurisdictions can pass safety laws on trains if it’s a unique danger and not too burdensome,” Beggs said. “And the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that law.”

The Spokane City Council voted earlier this year to put the question to voters, rather than pass the law themselves.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the initiative would prohibit oil and coal trains in the city. 

Copyright 2017 Northwest News Network

Emily Schwing
Emily Schwing comes to the Inland Northwest by way of Alaska, where she covered social and environmental issues with an Arctic spin as well as natural resource development, wildlife management and Alaska Native issues for nearly a decade. Her work has been heard on National Public Radio’s programs like “Morning Edition” and “All things Considered.” She has also filed for Public Radio International’s “The World,” American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” and various programs produced by the BBC and the CBC. She has also filed stories for Scientific American, Al Jazeera America and Arctic Deeply.