Voters to decide if Spokane should fine coal oil shipments
SPOKANE — Voters in Spokane will decide in November whether the city should fine railroad operators for certain coal and crude oil rail shipments through its downtown core, the latest community attempting to assert its local authority in the fight over fossil fuels.The Spokane City Council voted Monday night to put the initiative to voters rather than passing it, after petition backers gathered enough signatures.The ballot measure, if approved, would make rail shipments of uncovered coal or untreated crude oil a civil infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $261 per rail car, The Spokesman-Review reported. It would also restrict such shipments within 2,000 feet of schools, hospitals and the Spokane River.Opponents warn of costly, legal challenges. If approved, it is certain to face a steep uphill legal fight, since the federal government regulates railroad operations and safety. The city’s hearing examiner last fall concluded that “the proposed initiative is not enforceable because it is preempted by federal law.”Supporters say the city must act to ensure public safety and prevent environmental damage. They say a fiery derailment downtown that could cost millions of dollars in damage and put citizens’ lives in danger. They also insist the measure won’t conflict with federal laws.“I think, legally, it is defensible,” said City Councilman Breean Beggs, who provided much of the language for the petition. He believes local governments can regulate rail safety when there’s a localized threat and federal agencies have been silent on the issue.