An enthusiastic crowd of more than 75 people skipped Edmonds’ Third Thursday Art + Wine walk, choosing instead to jam the Edmonds Library Plaza Room and participate in the latest forum focusing on coal and oil traffic through Edmonds.
Sponsored by Citizens Against Coal and Oil Trains and moderated by Sustainable Edmonds’ Todd Cloutier, the forum drew a decidedly partisan crowd, and featured remarks by Ross MacFarlane of Climate Solutions, Fire District 1 Asst. Chief Alan Reading, 21st District State Senator Marko Liias (D), and the Sierra Club’s Robin Everett.
While the forum touched on a wide range of global and local issues, it was the local concerns including noise, tank car safety, coal dust and vibration from passing trains that drew the most interest from the audience.
MacFarlane led off the formal presentation with a review of the global environmental impacts of fossil fuel use, and his contention that at least in the case of coal, worldwide use is actually dropping and “there’s too much coal chasing too little demand.” He characterized the significant investments by the railroads and other energy interests in supplying and transporting coal as “stranded assets” for which these interests want the public to pay.
He was followed by Fire District 1 Asst. Chief Brad Reading, who got right to heart of two of Edmonds’ biggest concerns, waterfront access and the potential for the kind of catastrophic oil train explosions that have happened in other areas. Saying that “there’s no good way to the other side of the tracks,” Reading painted a grim picture of what might happen in our area in the event of a similar derailment.
“While these tragedies are admittedly rare, when they do happen they are catastrophic and would quickly overwhelm any efforts on our part to control the situation,” he said. “If a fire were to involve several tank cars, we simply would not be able to put it out. The best way to address this is prevention — we need to keep it from happening in the first place.”
Next up was 21st Legislative District State Senator Marko Liias (D), who provided a report on efforts in the state legislature to impose regulations on coal and oil trains to help improve safety and accountability. He highlighted the efforts by him and others in the Senate and House to promulgate legislation to control and regulate crude oil transport by rail, including imposing taxes on oil that is transported this way. “Right now oil that comes into Washington by tanker or pipelines is taxed,” he said. “I’d like to see these taxes extended to oil that comes into our state by rail, and then use that revenue to help cover the costs of things like emergency response and safety inspections.”
Last to speak was Robin Everett of The Sierra Club, who talked about the recent successes in slowing, delaying, and in some cases stopping the construction of new coal and oil terminals, refineries, and other facilities. She particularly praised the work of the tribes in successfully opposing recent projects in Anacortes. She reminded the audience of several upcoming projects that the Sierra Club will actively oppose, and urged interested citizens to pitch in and help.
The question and answer session largely focused on local impacts, with spirited discussion on issues including the risk of catastrophic accidents, coal dust impacts, and train noise — especially train horns blowing at all hours of the day and night. One resident who lives on a slope adjacent to the tracks was particularly concerned about the long-term effects of vibration on slope stability.
One of the last comments came from Edmonds City Council president Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, who called the increasing train traffic that brings more and more hazardous materials through our community “a travesty” that needs to be addressed without delay.
–– Story and photos by Larry Vogel