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Report: Preparing WA for More Oil Shipments, Spills

PHOTO: Recommendations from the Washington Dept. of Ecology outline how to fund and prepare for oil-shipment emergencies, when tribes and conservation groups think the focus should be on curtailing oil transport through the state. Photo credit: marpalusz/FeaturePics.com
PHOTO: Recommendations from the Washington Dept. of Ecology outline how to fund and prepare for oil-shipment emergencies, when tribes and conservation groups think the focus should be on curtailing oil transport through the state. Photo credit: marpalusz/FeaturePics.com
December 4, 2014

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Washington Department of Ecology made recommendations this week for what the state could do to handle and fund the risks that come with increased shipments of oil by rail and water.

Its report says 3 million gallons a week already move through Washington by train, a number that's expected to balloon if new fuel-export terminals are built.

Three terminals proposed for Grays Harbor are on hold pending court-ordered environmental and public health reviews.

Kristen Boyles, the Earthjustice attorney on that case for the Quinault Indian Nation and conservation groups, says the Ecology Department's recommendations will spawn some legislation, but she predicts it won't go far enough.

"And I suspect that there will be any number of proposed bills,” she says. “I'm afraid that they will all be nibbling around the edges of the problem, instead of saying that we don't have to have this in our communities if we don't want it."

The Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study makes a dozen recommendations, most of which involve finding permanent funding for more planners and inspectors, as well as equipment and emergency training for local first-responders.

The study asks the Legislature to amend some state laws to clarify who has financial responsibility for oil spill damages and cleanup costs.

Boyles says a state court of appeals is also considering that issue. But she's concerned the focus is on preparing for more oil shipments instead of preventing them.

"What is needed, I think, is a broader, bolder vision for stopping more crude-by-rail development, for preventing the building of new terminals, for protecting our waterways, for honoring our tribal trust responsibilities."

The Ecology Department delivers a final report on March 1.

This week, Earthjustice also sued the U.S. Department of Transportation for refusing to ban the use of DOT-111 rail tank cars for shipping crude oil, saying they are prone to puncture, spills and fires in train accidents.

The federal agency has issued a safety advisory. The suit, filed on behalf of the Sierra Club and ForestEthics, says tougher action is needed.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA