Thursday, October 16, 2014

Inslee's Draft Marine and Rail Oil Report: A Study in Mis-direction.


To: Interested Parties

Fr: Dan Leahy

Re: Inslee's Draft Marine and Rail Oil Report: A Study in Mis-direction.

I've waded through the October 1st draft of Governor Inslee's study. I do find it extremely insulting that there is no mention of the significant statewide municipal, community, farm, union and tribal opposition to his proposed oil terminals, expanding oil refineries, explosive oil trains and the misuse of our public ports.

I've come to believe that the only force capable of saving our land, labor and commonly held resources is an alliance of sovereign tribes, organized labor, farmer unions and community based resistance groups working in concert with their local governmental jurisdictions.

Hopefully the Spokane and Olympia hearings on the 28th and 30th will build toward this alliance.

How Can Inslee's Study be Used?

The study can be an opportunity to create a love fest for the “beleaguered green governor” who pleads that he has no authority to regulate rail and wants us to back a doomed legislative agenda to expand agency study budgets while oil terminals get approved, oil refineries get expanded, and our rail system is turned into a permanent carbon corridor for the export of Alberta tar sands and Bakken crude.

Or, the study can be an opportunity to present a sharp critique of Inslee's refusal to support community demands by opposing state sponsored oil terminals, expanding refineries and a state bureaucracy collaborating with BNSF's mission to export through our public ports global pollution from the broken earth of Northern Alberta and North Dakota.

What's the purpose of Inslee's Study?

Mis-direction. It defines the problem as a federal issue and calls upon the US Coast Guard and the Federal Railroad Administration to do something. The USCG actually regulates marine traffic, but the FRA is an industry dominated entity with the current capability of inspecting less than 1% of rail activity and a policy of imploring railroads rather than regulating them. Calling upon the FRA to regulate rail would be like calling upon BNSF's owner Warren Buffett to stop making money. It's not what they do.

Worse, the study's authors wait until the very end of the report (p. 82)to tell us that “... the potential ways in which the crude by rail system and the increase in port activities with new facilities affects tribal treaty rights, the environment and the regional economy” are “ancillary”and not the “direct topic” of the study.

This study process is attempting to cap the direction of our movement and trade our future for a false climate agenda based on mitigating at the margins.

Who is Doing the Study?

The same state agency who on Inslee's watch issued declarations of non-significance for two of the three proposed oil terminals at Grays Harbor, Inslee's Department of Ecology. Community groups had to overturn the Ecology's ecology.

His Department of Ecology then hired a BNSF “Senior Citizens Club” (Mainline Management, Inc.) as the study's only rail consultant where all three principals and all three associates had long corporate careers with BNSF. By the way, the BNSF which is the dominant Class I railroad in this state, is only mentioned twice in the entire study.

The same administration, Inslee's, whose Department of Transportation, State UTC, Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board and Community Economic Development Board implement programs with BNSF as one of its main beneficiaries and to the detriment of expanded and current passenger service.

This Department of Ecology and the administration that appointed it has less integrity than the BNSF consultants they hired.

What's the Main Refrain of the Study?

The phrase, “for decades”, really stuck with me. I think the study's authors are trying to tell us all this risk is normal so there is no particular reason to get upset.... it's just some new risks.

“Tribal risks from spills currently exist in all areas of the state and have for decades.” (36)

“The environmental risks from spills already existed in all areas of the state for decades.” (38)

“While diluted bitumen has been transported into Washington for decades,” (38)

“The socio-economic risks from oil spills has already existed in all areas of the state for decades.” (40)

But, of course, the scale of extraction of these “non-conventional” crudes has NOT been happening for decades nor have we experienced the consequent level of threat to our communities, our natural and treaty resources and our economic infrastructures. Inslee's study assumes all this extraction and transportation can be mitigated. They refuse to exercise the precautionary principle in the face of existing catastrophic consequences. The study's authors need to visit downtown Lac Megantic or watch the film, Petropolis, showing the devastation from the Alberta tar sands.

What's the Study's Value?

It indirectly Supports the Demand for an Immediate Moratorium on Crude by Rail. The study lists in excruciating detail how totally exposed everyone in this state is to the explosive danger of the existing crude by rail traffic. The Washington State Council of Fire Fighters is right. We need an immediate halt to this oil train traffic.

“Nearly 3 million Washington state residents live in 93 cities and towns on or near crude by rail trains routes” (or, as we would say, are in the “blast zone.”) (30)

“Current tank car placarding standards for the transportation of hazardous materials are insufficient in providing First Responders timely and important information. “ (51)

“None of the current crude by rail are subject to requirements for comprehensive response plans,”

“Railroad spills are not currently covered by state approved oil spill contingency plans (67)

“Washington has not established financial responsibility levels for facilities which include both fixed and mobile facilities and rail as a facility. (68)

“The current state regulatory definition of oil may not include certain heavy oils, diluted bitumen, synthetic crudes, and other crude oils produced in Canada that are transported in Washington. (68)

“Currently, the state does not have means to gather information on the type or volume of oil being shipped through Washington.” (69)

62% of the state's 278 fire districts “believe that their departments are not sufficiently trained or do not have the resources to respond to a train derailment accompanied by fire.” (70)

An overwhelming majority of first responders surveyed “are not aware of the response strategies or resources in place by railroads should an incident take place.” (71)

There is “not a comprehensive inventory of the equipment location that would aid in locating and sharing equipment when it is needed.” (72)

“Training for first responders in Washington State is currently insufficient and is not uniformly coordinated, and what training is currently available is at risk of reduction due to reduced federal grants. (72)

A Geographic Response Plans for oil spills to water “have not been developed for most of the rail corridors through which crude by rail trains are transiting....” (73)

I had a conversation with a person several months ago who described the small Lewis county rail towns of Vader, Winlock and Napavine as “sacrifice zones.” More recently I drove the BNSF track in Eastern Washington. I now think the rail towns of Cheney, Sprague, Ritzville, Lind, Hatton, Connell and Mesa are also “sacrifice zones.”

Increasingly, I've come to believe that our entire state is being made a sacrifice zone to the extractive madness of the big oil and that the state government is currently facilitating its creation. I just don't think they will get away with it as long as our movement stays grounded and building.

PO Box 602
Olympia, Washington 98507

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