Spokane City Council Sends Controversial Rail Measure to Ballot

Proposed ban on fossil fuels traveling through city is illegal, unconstitutional

— Contrary to federal law and ignoring the advice of two different legal and policy advisers, the Spokane City Council moved forward with a controversial ballot measure banning the transport of coal and oil by rail through the city.

By a vote of 5-1, the council moved for the measure to be placed on the Nov. 7 general election ballot. Signatures gathered for the measure were verified by the county auditor’s office on July 10.

Both the city’s mayor and county sheriff joined the city’s legal advisors in warning the council the proposal would be problematic, if ultimately approved by voters.

“This measure is unenforceable and will result in unnecessary legal bills for the taxpayers of our city,” said Spokane Mayor David Condon. “I am deeply concerned about what this could do to our city and our economy, with no evidence that it would help our environment or safety,” he said. “This measure goes against independent legal review and sets the city up for significant, costly legal challenges that would divert already limited resources from programs and initiatives focused on areas that this attempts to address.”

“It’s unenforceable, and that’s going to create some real problems for the city,” added Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who has openly opposed the measure. “This measure has been deemed unconstitutional and is politically driven. It will force the city to spend millions to defend it in losing cause; that’s money that could be better spent on vital public needs like more policing, fire protection and road repairs,” he said. “The only people who will profit from such a waste of taxpayer dollars are attorneys, such as one of this initiative’s leading sponsors and proponents, Councilman Breean Beggs. As a citizen of the City of Spokane I encourage all of us living here to remember whose leadership led to such an illegal, and unconstitutional waste of tax dollars that could have been spent on our roads, and our safety. ”

The measure seeks to amend the Spokane Municipal Code to make it a class 1 civil infraction for any person or entity to allow a rail car it owns to ship uncontained coal and some types of oil by rail through the downtown Spokane corridor, or within 2,000 feet of a school, hospital or the Spokane River. The measure would impose a civil fine of $261 per car on the owners of the railcars shipping the prohibited fossil fuels through the city limits.

Michael Cathcart, executive director of Better Spokane, said the council is being irresponsible by ignoring the advice of its own legal and policy advisers.

“This measure puts the misguided political agenda of the anti-fossil fuel crowd above the needs of the entire city of Spokane,” said Cathcart. “By ignoring the warnings of its legal and policy advisers that this measure is unconstitutional and unenforceable, the council is putting the city at risk for future lawsuits, which will cost taxpayers money that could be better used for other, more pressing public services.”

In a letter to Spokane Mayor David Condon, Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI) CEO Todd Mielke underscored the illegalities of the measure, noting in part that “the proposed initiative seeks to supersede the Interstate Commerce Act through local regulation, something GSI believes is unsound public policy and ultimately in violation of the Act from a legal perspective.”

GSI further underscored the important economic value the rail lines play for the city of Spokane.

Wrote Mielke, “This initiative appears to be more about one group’s opposition to the use of fossil fuels than protecting public safety.”

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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. KWC works 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 http://keepwashingtoncompetitive.com/.