Proposed Spokane Rail Ban Threatens Local, Regional Economy

Spokane rail ban initiative likely qualifies for the November 2017 ballot

A proposal deemed unenforceable — and unconstitutional — by city legal advisors to ban rail cars carrying fossil fuels through Spokane will likely appear on the November 2017 ballot, putting taxpayers on the hook for a legal fight and threatening local, state and regional trade efforts.

Proponents of Initiative No. 2016-6, turned in signatures to the City of Spokane Monday in an attempt to make the ballot. Signature gatherers must provide 2,586 legal signatures for the measure to make the fall ballot.

Last fall, the city’s own hearing examiner, Brian McGinn, reviewed the measure, calling it both “illegal” and “unenforceable.” Under the proposal, the shippers of oil and coal would be fined $261 per car and would be banned from moving the product through the city limits. Federal law considers railroads “common carriers,” requiring them to move fossil fuel products, among other commodities.

Michael Cathcart, executive director of Better Spokane, said the backers of the initiative fail to understand the greater impact this measure stands to have on the Inland Northwest economy.

“This is illegal, pure and simple,” said Cathcart. “The railroads have moved fossil fuels through Spokane for decades, and rail remains the safest, most efficient means of moving these commodities. Yet because of the politics around fossil fuels, we’re willing to jeopardize a major trade network for our city, our state and our region,” he said.

“This is opening up the taxpayers of Spokane to a huge legal fight, one that will ultimately cost them tax dollars better used for other city services,” said Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. “It’s frustrating to watch this unfold, knowing the law fully prevents this kind of commodity-specific ban from taking effect. It’s unenforceable and unconstitutional. It sets a bad precedent for our city and state and it’s going to cost taxpayers.”

John Stuhlmiller, CEO of the Washington State Farm Bureau, called the ballot measure a direct threat to the agriculture industry, the state’s second largest industry behind aerospace.

“Rail is the lifeblood of our state and for our region. This is a serious threat to our farmers, growers, ranchers, manufacturers and exporters who depend on rail to move through Spokane,” said Stuhlmiller. “If voters ultimately approve this measure in the fall there will be legal repercussions and that could affect the shipment of other materials, not just coal and oil. I’m hopeful people will see the greater value of the railroads and how essential they are to today’s way of life.”

About Keep Washington Competitive
In 2014, AWB and representatives from labor, business, agriculture and other trade organizations formed Keep Washington Competitive, a coalition united to protect trade from overreaching regulations and to promote bi-lateral trade growth in Washington state through sound state policies and fostering a regulatory environment that encourages investment in our state trade industries. To learn more, visit


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