Gov. Jay Inslee directed state agencies Thursday to tackle mounting public safety concerns and develop an oil spill response plan as train traffic continues to increase, particularly in Southwest Washington.
He announced the directive at a meeting of The Columbian’s editorial board in Vancouver.
“The Pacific Northwest is experiencing rapid changes in how crude oil is moving through rail corridors and over Washington waters, creating new safety and environmental concerns,” the directive reads.
The governor asked the Department of Ecology to work with other state agencies, the Federal Railroad Administration and tribal governments to “identify data and information gaps that hinder improvements in public safety and spill prevention and response.”
Specifically, the governor’s directive asks agencies to:
o Characterize risk of accidents along rail lines.
o Review state and federal laws and rules with respect to rail safety and identify regulatory gaps.
o Assess the relative risk of Bakken crude with respect to other forms of crude oil.
o Identify data and information gaps that hinder improvements in public safety and spill prevention and response.
o Begin development of spill response plans for impacted counties.
o Identify potential actions that can be coordinated with neighboring states and British Columbia.
o Identify, prioritize, and estimate costs for state actions that will improve public safety and spill prevention and response.
He set an Oct. 1 deadline for Ecology to respond.
He also said he’ll reach out to other states to develop coordinated oil transportation safety and spill response plans, and pledged to ask the 2015-17 Legislature for money for oil train safety.
The directive comes as the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council is reviewing an application by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies to build an oil shipping terminal at the Port of Vancouver. Bakken crude would arrive at Vancouver by train from North Dakota and leave by ship or barge via the Columbia River.
As governor, Inslee will have the final say on the Tesoro-Savage permit. Inslee said he had to be “very guarded” in his comments about the oil terminal while the review is happening. “We will make the right decision at the right time,” he said.
“I can tell you we have very serious concerns with safety associated with oil trains,” he said.
The governor said he would be “heavily invested in understanding the full ramifications” and plans to be as well-versed as anyone in the state on the topic.
Schools and bridges
The interview was wide-ranging; Inslee also talked about the need to close tax loopholes in order to find additional revenue to fund the state’s public schools.
“We have a sort of Swiss-cheese tax code because some lobbyists have been successful in getting some special favors over the decades,” Inslee said. “Some of those make sense … They are not uniformly virtuous.”
In this coming legislative session, he said, he will push lawmakers to increase the state’s minimum wage.
“I do believe minimum wage is one of the tools that are useful to give working people a fair break,” he said.
And, he said, the state continues to have a lot of “unmet needs” when it comes to transportation.
“Many of them are here (in Southwest Washington), the (Columbia River Crossing) just being one of them. We know there are other needs as well,” Inslee said.
Inslee said once the region has “legislators that really want to find a solution for Southwest Washington,” the area would be better represented in any transportation package.
Inslee was asked about Republican efforts to organize a new bistate bridge coalition. He said the only thing he’s heard is “there have been some discussions.”
It’s an effort spearheaded by Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, and Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas. Yet another bridge plan is being promoted by Republican County Commissioner David Madore, who vows to open his bridge to traffic in five years.
“The last bridge took, I think, 10 to 13 years to get all the permitting done,” Inslee said. “This is an arduous, lengthy, multijurisdictional process … There might be 1,000 other plans.”
A new bridge is “pivotal to the entire state” and he planned to spend his day in Vancouver talking to “people of good faith and open minds” to discuss the best way to move forward.
The first-term Democrat spent all day Thursday in Vancouver. He presented awards to state Department of Transportation employees, and visited a local technology firm, Smith-Root, that is expanding. Thursday evening he gave the commencement address at the Washington School for the Deaf’s graduation ceremony.