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Spokane Activists Sue Government Over Preemption of Local Health and Safety Laws

Photo courtesy of jnyemb via Flickr

Some Spokane activists have filed a suit against the federal government for infringing on a community’s right to pass health and safety laws. They are concerned with the danger posed by oil trains carrying explosive Bakken crude oil, and environmental impacts from coal dust.

The plaintiffs include several people who were arrested last year for blocking railroad tracks in Spokane in a protest over oil and coal trains coming through the community.

Attorney Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin is representing the group, and says it comes in response to the Spokane City Council’s unsuccessful efforts to put in place specific laws aimed at limiting coal and oil train cars from passing through the community. Schromen=Wawrin says, “The city’s hearing examiner said well I’m looking at the law and this preemption statute from congress prevents us from doing this so, as long as preemption is a complete thing over any health and safety law, we can’t pass anything or it’s just going to get struck down”

The suit says that preemption statute violates resident’s constitutional rights to a healthy climate and local self-government. The city council had hoped to put a measure on the city ballot that would have imposed a fee on oil train cars passing through the city.

The suit comes on the heels of a recent court case in Oregon that the plaintiff’s attorney says recognizes that people possess a fundamental constitutional right to a “livable climate” , pursuant to the due process clause of the constitution.

Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.