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Volatile Debate

October 19, 2017




Michael Cathcart, spokesman for the Committee to Protect Spokane's Economy, a group of rail, coal and oil businesses, and other industries and citizens who oppose the measure, says that people should vote against Proposition 2 first and foremost because it's illegal.


"It violates federal law," Cathcart says. "The hearing examiner and the [city council] policy adviser have both said it's illegal, the Center for Justice [Riverkeeper] questions it. ... I'd say it's pretty universally panned in Spokane, based on the fact it's illegal."


If it's passed, Cathcart says the city could face very expensive litigation.

He also argues that in lieu of moving oil and coal by train, the other option would be truck.


"If it could be implemented, which again is a significant question mark, then all that would happen is you take oil and coal, and you move it from the railroad to an alternative transportation source," Cathcart says. "The only alternative that exists currently through Washington state is the highways."

That could put more people at risk because highway crashes are more frequent, and every single oil train would need 280 trucks to replace it, which would also increase greenhouse gas emissions, Cathcart says.

Beggs and Lee say the trucking argument doesn't hold, because it wouldn't happen. Rather than truck the oil from North Dakota or pay the fine, it would make more sense just to stabilize the oil before transportation, they say.

"You would not transport oil 2,000 miles with trucks. They would stabilize it," Beggs says. "The cost of stabilizing would be way cheaper than trying to have 18-wheelers doing it."


Cathcart says his committee's research indicates that psi has little to do with oil's volatility, and to treat it to the levels required by the measure would cost millions of dollars in new infrastructure in North Dakota. He also says that the railroads have indicated if fewer trains were to roll through Spokane, some of the 500 regional railroad jobs would go away.




Most of the debate around the measure has centered on whether it is even possible for the city to enforce.


"We don't get to as the city of Spokane, nor should we be getting involved in interstate commerce issues," Cathcart says. "If we're going to block a few commodities a few activists in Spokane don't want to move through, what's to stop other communities from blocking other things, like Boeing airplane parts? It can quickly turn into a trade war."


The railroads are common carriers, which means they don't get to choose what they transport, he says. What they have done is invest hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years in infrastructure upgrades on their rail lines in Washington, Cathcart says. ""


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