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Spokane City Council Withdraws Controversial Oil And Coal Train Measure

U.S. Department of Transportation

Two weeks ago, the Spokane City Council approved a ballot measure that garnered national attention. It would impose a fine on every rail car that transports coal or oil through the heart of the city.  Monday the council voted for its withdrawal.

When Council President Ben Stuckart originally brought the measure forth, he said he was trying to meet a deadline to get it on November’s ballot. Instead he hurried to meet the deadline -- this Thursday -- to remove the initiative. Instead, he now wants to work with the railroads to find safer ways to transport volatile crude oil and coal.

He said two things happened. For one, he met with BNSF and Union Pacific.

“I’ve had meetings going back to 2012 with the railroads and this is the first meeting where I felt that our concerns were actually being heard,” Stuckart said.

He said they even committed to working with Spokane to find safer ways to transport volatile crude oil and coal.

The other thing that he said changed his mind was re-reading legal memos from both the city’s legal department and from BNSF Railway company. The memos warned that the measure might not hold up to a legal challenge.

That’s when Stuckart decided he might have acted too hastily.

“They all said the same thing, which is it wouldn’t be successful legally,” he said. “So I’m bringing it forward, because I don’t think it’s a good use of the citizens’ dollars.”

Stuckart added that leaders of other Inland cities have contacted him to suggest the formation of a regional group that would focus on regional and national policy regarding fossil fuel shipment by rail.

Two council members voted to keep the measure on the ballot. Its author, Councilman Breean Beggs, argues that the ordinance calls for treating Bakken Crude to make it no more dangerous than other oil products shipped elsewhere in the country. He slowly dropped four pennies to illustrate that safety standards could be implemented at the cost of four cents per gallon.

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear also voted against removing the measure, saying it would have given the city a better bargaining position with railroad operators.

Spokane’s city council suspended its meeting rules to make the vote move forward, and required a majority of four votes to pass.

SPR Update to story, Copyright 2016 NWNews. To see more, visit NWNews.

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