City Council passes resolution opposing coal, oil transport

Kate McBride

Citing threats to public safety and the Gorge economy, Hood River City Council passed a resolution Monday calling for a ban on coal and oil transports through the Gorge.

Councilor Kate McBride drafted the resolution, with input from the Columbia Gorge Climate Action Network, which had several members present at Monday’s meeting.

“The city supports economic growth that does not jeopardize the City of Hood River’s commitment to fight the serious impacts of climate change,” states the first “Be It Resolved” of the detailed, five-page resolution.

The resolution notes that “because the rail alignment runs through our downtown area, the impact of existing and proposed oil trains is potentially catastrophic in terms of loss of life and devastation of the City of Hood River community, environment and economy.”

It states that “derailment poses a significant threat for which we lack a specific emergency response plan.” No federal regulations are in place requiring railway or energy companies to pay for the costs of such a plan.

Councilors considered shortening the document, but kept it as written, with a few wording changes.

McBride noted that rail operations are federally regulated, negating any legal ban the city might enact, but the resolution attempts to address both rail and barge transport of fuels.

“Supposedly there is no way to prohibit it,” she said. “Personally I wish we could do something like that.”

Voting with McBride were councilors Brian McNamara, Carrie Nelson and Mark Zanmiller, and Mayor Arthur Babitz, who has taken an outspoken role against fossil fuel transports. Councilors Ed Weathers and Laurent Picard were not present.

Zanmiller said he fully supported the resolution, but suggested the council take the opportunity, before voting, to consider any “downside” of the vote in terms of future funding allocations or other impacts and what he called “the pros and cons and consequences of this.”

Babitz replied that he sees “no blowback” from the city’s decision.

“We’re stating what is incredibly obvious,” Babitz said. “I have no fear of (blowback). This is a fair statement of our level of concern on this issue.”

Babitz added, “Passing this resolution and then going to sleep on this would be the worst possible thing. We have to be ready to take future action.” In particular, he said the city should anticipate reaching out to the “different constituencies” on the issue, including those who suggest that a ban on coal transport will prevent some forms of job growth.

“We have no legal authority in this, but we can make the political cost of it high for the other side,” Babitz said.

McBride noted that the resolution was crafted with both train and barge transport in mind.

“We tried to get at everything there that has happened when it came to oil transport in the Gorge,” she said, noting that officials from Union Pacific, the primary Oregon-side carrier, have notified the city it plans to bring oil trains carrying Utah crude through Hood River.

Citizens including David Hupp spoke before the vote, encouraging passage. Hupp cited several documents stating that no amount of insurance coverage is available to adequately cover a rail company for a catastrophic train wreck.

“That means they have effectively placed the burden of remediation on local communities,” Hupp said. “Isn’t it time to tell the big oil corporations that it’s not okay to put the crosses on the backs of the communities or to burden the taxpayers? That’s where it’s headed now.”

Peter Cornelison said the city’s action “adds momentum” to the efforts at higher levels to effect change in regulations on how oil is transported. Cornelison, a councilor-elect, spoke as a representative of Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

Cornelison said 20 Northwest cities have passed similar resolutions. “It’s not something the City of Hood River itself can make a change, but on the higher levels, this might help.”

Hugh McMahan of Parkdale noted that while he is not a city resident, he and all residents of the Gorge would be affected by a rail disaster.

“If there is an explosion, it is not going to care where you are or about any boundaries,” McMahan said.

A Resolution stating the City of Hood River’s concerns and opposition to the transportation of crude oil through the Columbia River Gorge.

WHEREAS, the City Council and Mayor under the Hood River City Charter have the authority to protect the health, safety and general welfare of its citizens and have determined that the transport by rail or barge of crude oil is contrary to the health, safety and general welfare of its citizens; and

WHEREAS, the City is committed to being a leader I protecting and sustaining the community, the local economy, the environment, the air quality, the water quality, and drinking water supplies, as well as reducing carbon emissions I the Columbia River Gorge; and train derailments can lead to crude oil spills that pose a significate public health risk …

WHEREAS, the City experiences strong and steady job growth due to our exceptional quality of life, attracting people who can move their companies anywhere in the world; this growth and quality of life is endangered by intensified crude oil transport through the Gorge …

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City strongly urges the Governor of Oregon and the Governor of Washington to use the powers of each state to oppose crude oil transport through the Columbia River Gorge; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City agrees with the concerns expressed in the July 2014 resolution passed by the Columbia River Gorge Commission; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City urges the Federal Government to immediately implement safety regulations regarding train speeds and rail car designs which have not been proven to safely transport flammable crude oil; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the cited hazard and potential damage require that the owners and operators transporting crude oil by rail or barge assume all risk and be sufficiently bonded and insured…

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City requests that an Environmental Impact Statement that identifies and measures the impacts on our community be completed prior to approval of permits; that at least one environmental scoping hearing be held in Hood River and the results of continued environmental monitoring of noise, air, groundwater, and surface water quality be shared with local and state agencies …