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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Politicians call for action after derailment in Gorge

Washington leaders want stronger safety regulations; Oregon officials want moratorium

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer
Published: June 6, 2016, 8:53pm

Washington’s politicians called for strengthening safety requirements on crude-by-rail shipments, and Oregon’s elected officials advocated for a moratorium on oil traveling through the Columbia River Gorge in the wake of Friday’s train derailment in Mosier, Ore.

“The plume of black smoke rising into a cloudless afternoon sky over the Gorge isn’t an image the governor or many in our state will soon forget,” Gov. Jay Inslee’s spokesman said Monday. “Rail shipments throughout the country and our state have increased dramatically, and major rail lines traverse not only some of our region’s most scenic natural areas, but also through neighborhoods and residential areas.”

Chase Gallagher, Inslee’s spokesman, said the federal government needs to match the state’s efforts in improving safety efforts, adding that “the rapid growth of crude-by-rail transport throughout our region has outpaced updates to safety and spill response regulations.”

Across the river, Oregon leaders called for a halt of rail traffic until there’s more understanding about what caused 16 cars on a 96-car oil train to derail last week.

“Oil train tankers are still lying on their sides in Mosier, the ground and water have yet to be cleaned up, and there’s still no good explanation for the cause of Friday’s crash. It is too soon to resume oil train traffic through the Columbia River Gorge,” cautioned a statement signed by Oregon’s Democratic leaders, including U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, Governor Kate Brown and U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici.

A Union Pacific spokesman said on Friday that the company postponed oil-by-rail transport on the Oregon side of the river.

Washington’s U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, said in a statement that “the accident highlights our paramount need for safety when it comes to transporting any hazardous substance through our region, oil or otherwise.”

She added: “As a federal official, my role is to push for strong federal safety standards and to make sure we have the resources for a quick, comprehensive response to protect our communities.” 

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who has championed regulating crude-by-rail transport, called the incident “another wakeup call.”

“Throughout the Northwest, there are many population centers that are right around the rail line, so we want the safe transport of this product,” Cantwell said, adding that it’s time tanker cars are updated and the volatility of crude is regulated.

State Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, said the Washington Legislature will continue to work toward improving safety standards, but much of the heavy lifting will be up to federal legislators.

“Unless the federal government deals with oil by train, all we can do is try and make it safer (at the state level),” Harris said, such as further reducing speed limits.

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“What do you want me to do, get up there and scream hysterically and say stop the trains?” Harris said. “That won’t help. I can’t stop the trains.”

Harris speculated that the incident in Mosier could sway public opinion on the oil-by-rail transfer terminal proposed in Vancouver.

“Do I think the oil terminal will be sited now?” said Harris, a proponent of the Vancouver Energy project. “Probably not.”

But he’s not convinced that will make the community any safer. The trains will still travel through the region, he said, adding that a pipeline is his favorite alternative.

State Rep. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, said, “We need to learn from what happened here.”

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