While Vancouver pursues project, other Northwest ports aren’t so sure
The nation's public ports, focused on attracting industry and jobs, are largely known as agnostics when it comes to pursuing the commodities they handle.
It doesn't matter if the shipments are toxic or nontoxic. Ports move cargoes, the story goes. They don't pronounce moral judgments about them.
However, at least one line of business is no longer necessarily a lock, at least in the Northwest: the transportation of crude oil by rail.
Public concerns about everything from explosive oil-train derailments and crude spills to greenhouse gas emissions and the future of life on the planet are part of the reason why.
In at least two cases in Oregon and Washington, ports decided safety and environmental concerns loomed large enough for them to step back from oil transport. The Port of Portland, for example, eyed as much as $6 million in new annual revenue when it mulled siting an oil-train export terminal, documents obtained by The Columbian show. Ultimately, Oregon's largest port scrapped the idea because of rail safety and other worries. At one point, it also reckoned that "the public does not readily differentiate between our direct contribution to climate change and actions we enable."
In Washington, the Port of Olympia adopted a resolution raising multiple safety, environmental and economic concerns. It noted the July 6, 2013, fiery oil-train accident in Lac Megantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people. And the resolution called on the Port of Grays Harbor to rethink opening its doors to three proposed oil-by-rail transfer terminals.
To be sure, there doesn't appear to be a groundswell of Northwest ports swearing off oil or other energy projects. Yet public concerns aren't lost on the port industry. Eric Johnson, executive director of the Washington Public Ports Association, said he worries that putting certain commodities such as coal under "cradle-to-grave" environmental analyses sets a bad precedent that could gum up the quest for other port cargoes.
Nevertheless, he said, "we're concerned about oil-by-rail transportation." So much so, the association, which represents some 64 ports in Washington, will soon issue a position paper, Johnson said. It will include calls on the federal government to boost the safety of tank cars, and to upgrade oil-spill prevention and response measures. Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board said that assuring the safety of oil shipments by rail would be one of its top priorities for the year.
In Vancouver, meanwhile, critics pressure port commissioners to cancel a lease to build what would be the nation's largest oil-by-rail transfer operation....... more here