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Our Voice: Cities should have say about potential oil trains

Economic development is important for our region, and we’ve supported it in many ways.

Sometimes projects have more potential impact than others in one way or another, and deserve careful consideration.

Proposals for new oil and coal terminals in our state have drawn concern and support across Washington and beyond.

We’ve supported the concepts, along with careful review of the environmental impacts. Both sides of the issue have had strong public relations campaigns to spin environmental data for their objectives.

But we’re looking for the facts, and await the findings of the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which is evaluating whether a proposal by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. to build a station in Vancouver can handle up to 360,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

“The facility’s principal purpose is to provide North American crude oil to U.S. refineries to offset or replace declining Alaska North Slope crude reserves, California crude production, and more expensive foreign crude-oil imports,” according to the council’s website. Federal law generally prohibits exports of crude oil extracted in the U.S.

The impact locally is that trains carrying oil to the Vancouver terminal most likely will travel through the Tri-Cities.

And that has first-responders here and elsewhere asking questions. The subject gained more attention after a recent oil train derailment and explosion in Illinois.

Spokane has filed a petition to intervene in the state council’s proceedings. Basically, the city wants to be part of the discussions by the state agency.

Pasco’s fire chief has asked his city council to consider doing the same.

“Personally, I thought it would be appropriate for us to weigh in on that,” said Chief Bob Gear at a recent Pasco City Council meeting. “Nobody has the capability to deal with a fire on that volume.”

Spokane’s mayor claimed his city was the only urban site on the route the trains would travel through from the oil fields North Dakota to the Vancouver terminal. A map published in the Spokesman-Review shows an alternate route that would bypass the Tri-Cities on its way down the Columbia Gorge.

But Pasco and Kennewick would be on the most practical train route, and they deserve a voice in the review process. At one point, the state council had expected to make its recommendation to the governor this month, but requests by the companies have extended the review process to November.

Local leaders should ask to be heard, just as those in Spokane have done. Without a voice in the process, it’s much harder to have questions answered — and to make sure our community is safe.

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