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Spokane City Council To Consider Withdrawal Of Controversial Oil And Coal Train Measure

U.S. Department of Transportation
File photo. The Spokane City Council has approved a measure that would make the shipment of oil or coal by rail through Spokane a civil infraction.

Two weeks ago, the Spokane City Council approved a ballot measure that garnered national attention. It would impose a fine on every rail car that transports coal or oil through the heart of the city.  Monday the council could consider its withdrawal.

When Council President Ben Stuckart originally brought the measure forth, he said he was trying to meet a deadline to get it on November’s ballot. But instead he now wants to work with the railroads to find safer ways to transport volatile crude oil and coal.

He said two things happened. For one, he met with BNSF and Union Pacific.

“I’ve had meetings going back to 2012 with the railroads and this is the first meeting where I felt that our concerns were actually being heard,” Stuckart said.

He said they even committed to working with Spokane to find safer ways to transport volatile crude oil and coal.

The other thing that he said changed his mind was re-reading legal memos from both the city’s legal department and from BNSF Railway company. The memos warned that the measure might not hold up to a legal challenge.

That’s when Stuckart decided he might have acted too hastily.

“They all said the same thing, which is it wouldn’t be successful legally,” he said. “So I’m bringing it forward, because I don’t think it’s a good use of the citizens’ dollars.”

Stuckart added that leaders of other Inland cities have contacted him to suggest the formation of a regional group that would focus on regional and national policy regarding fossil fuel shipment by rail.

Stuckart is asking fellow council members to consider withdrawing the measure in order to meet a Thursday deadline set by the Spokane City Auditor’s office that solidifies the November ballot. He said at least a few councilors on the six-member panel have expressed disappointment.

“I may be alone in my request to pull it off the ballot,” Stuckart said.

In order to withdraw the measure, Spokane’s city council will have to suspend its meeting rules. A withdrawal also requires a majority of four votes to pass.