Spokane City Council Bowing to Special Interests with Energy Ordinance

Proposal to make rail transport of energy products illegal would harm economy, create legal challenges for city

OLYMPIA — A proposal under consideration by the Spokane City Council to make the transport of energy products illegal within city limits is drawing the ire of labor and agriculture interests who are concerned about the misguided policy’s potential impacts to Washington’s economy.

“With one in four jobs in our state tied to trade, this proposal makes no sense,” said Matthew Lebsack, chairman of the SMART/UTU (Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation Division/United Transport Union, Local 105). “The livelihoods of so many of our members in western Washington are directly connected to rail and the substantial investments rail makes to ensure the safe transport of all commodities. This is a shortsighted measure being pushed largely by out-of-state special interest groups who don’t understand the role of rail in Spokane or Washington state’s economy.”

The ordinance, scheduled for consideration during a hearing this evening in Spokane, would make rail transport of oil and coal illegal within the city, imposing fines as penalties. The proposal stands to have significant economic impacts on vital rail lines, which serve as a major conduit for agricultural product and other commodities from the Inland Northwest to Washington seaports.

Lee Newgent, executive secretary for the Washington State Building & Trades Council, called on the council to consider the broader economic and trade impacts of the proposal.

“This ordinance sets a dangerous precedent and stands to affect thousands of people, not just in the rail industry but across the entire economy in our state,” said Newgent. “This could also wind up costing the City of Spokane a lot of extra money in additional legal challenges, at a time the city can least afford it. We should be focusing our efforts on creating jobs and growing the economy, especially family-wage jobs. I urge the council to reconsider this proposal tonight and think about the broader implications it could have for Spokane and the whole region.”

While energy commodities are arbitrarily the focus of this resolution, John Stuhlmiller, CEO of the Washington Farm Bureau, cautioned that adoption of this ordinance could open the door to arbitrary limits being placed on the shipment by rail of other goods and services, including agriculture products.

“Rail is the lifeblood for our members, who depend on rail lines to get their commodities to market,” Stuhlmiller said. “This proposal sends the wrong message to private companies about our state, and potentially compromises the service for shipping key agricultural products from eastern Washington and beyond. With so much of our trade portfolio weighted toward ag, we can’t afford to jeopardize our rail shipments. Unfortunately, this ordinance could.”