State leaders touch on coal trains, transportation

Those are among local issues mentioned during discussion of upcoming legislative session

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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OLYMPIA — State government leaders stuck mostly to big-picture issues during a discussion of the upcoming legislative session, but they did touch on some topics that have made headlines recently in Clark County.

For instance, Democratic Gov.-elect Jay Inslee responded to a question about coal trains during the briefing he gave media members Thursday morning. He said that the environmental impacts of coal-carrying trains that cross through several of the state's cities, Vancouver included, must be fully evaluated.

"I am intent on making sure that our state has a full, fair evaluation of the impacts of the coal trains on the state of Washington, and I will be diligent to make sure that happens," Inslee said.

Inslee added that the proposal by global energy companies to export coal to other parts of the world from plants in the Pacific Northwest could help create jobs. But it also could hinder economic growth if small towns become dissected by rail traffic.

In Oregon, Gov. John Kitzhaber has called for a comprehensive review of coal train impacts that includes possible effects of coal dust, railroad noise and even the carbon emissions that could reach the West Coast from across the Pacific Ocean. Some Clark County residents have rallied their local governments to request those more comprehensive studies.

Inslee also outlined the need for a transportation package that would ask voters to approve new revenue for the state's major transportation needs. He did not mention any specific projects, such as the Columbia River Crossing project to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River.

"We know that it is necessary to move forward on transportation," Inslee said. "Freight mobility is at risk in our state. We have to make sure that we improve that … and our ability to have a modern transportation system."

Inslee didn't rule out tax increases as part of a transportation package, saying that all options needed to be on the table.

Some high profile legislators said during the press briefing that the state's transportation needs ultimately must take a back seat to the state's court-mandated need to spend more money on K-12 education. In its McCleary decision, the state Supreme Court said the state needs to adequately fund basic education by 2018.

According to the Washington Constitution, the state's "paramount duty" is "not building new roads, it's educating our children," said Rep. Ross Hunter, Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which makes key spending decisions. "I personally will support a transportation package, after we fund McCleary."

Missing from the conversation were Clark County's former budgetary heavy-hitters Joe Zarelli and Craig Pridemore. Zarelli, a Republican from Ridgefield resigned in May, and Pridemore ran unsuccessfully for state auditor rather than seek re-election. The two served last session on the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

State leaders also addressed gun violence on Thursday. Inslee stressed on Thursday that "there is no one solution to violence or gun violence," and he'll consider a wide range of proposals, including ways to boost mental health care programs or crack down on high-capacity ammunition.

Democratic Speaker of the House Frank Chopp said that although there are diverse ideas about how to curb gun violence, one legislator is working on a measure to stiffen penalties for students caught with guns at school.

Last month, a 15-year-old student at Evergreen High School brought his dad's combination rifle/shotgun to school and said he intended to sell it to another student. He received one year of probation.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com