Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Memo To Spokane City Council Says Proposed Oil Train Ballot Initiative Isn't Legal

File photo. An initiative proposed for next year's ballot in Spokane, Washington, would restrict coal and oil transport through the city by train.
David Gubler
/
Wikimedia - tinyurl.com/z7atuch
File photo. An initiative proposed for next year's ballot in Spokane, Washington, would restrict coal and oil transport through the city by train.

An initiative proposed for next year’s ballot in Spokane, Washington, would restrict coal and oil transport through the city by train. But now a hearing examiner for the city of Spokane says the proposal cannot be enforced.

According to an eight-page memo to the city council from Hearing Examiner Brian T. McGinn, the proposed law would be preempted by federal law. That’s despite the proposal’s intent “to ensure public safety and prevent environmental damage.”

McGinn cited several cases from various circuit courts all the way to the Supreme Court that show state and local laws that govern the activities and location or that have an economic impact on railroad operations are routinely held invalid and preempted under federal law.

“Federal authority over rail operations cannot be usurped through an exercise of local police powers,” McGinn wrote.

As well, McGinn wrote that “a local government cannot enact an ordinance or regulation that effectively prohibits certain railroad operations” or that “dictates the location of railroad operations.”

The proposed ballot initiative comes after the City Council reversed an attempt this summer to regulate coal and oil shipments through Spokane. It outlined concerns about the proximity of those trains to the city’s schools, hospitals and water resources.

If the initiative were in the form of safety regulations, McGinn said his legal analysis would be “significantly different.”

In the memo, he said he is unable to suggest “how to modify the initiative to bring it into compliance with [federal] law.”

“Minor adjustments,” he wrote, “will not be effective to cure the legal shortcoming.”

Initiative sponsors don’t agree with the analysis and plan to move forward. They would need nearly 3,000 signatures to place the initiative on next year’s ballot.

Copyright 2016 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.
Related Content