Aji Piper–Photo by John Duffy
On Friday afternoon, former Mayor Mike McGinn joined about 150 local residents outside the fundraiser President Obama was hosting for Jay Inslee to demand an immediate halt to the shipment of dangerous Bakken crude over Washington railroads. Weeks after a train derailed and caught fire in the Columbia Gorge town of Mosier, OR, federal and state officials have failed to enact any changes to safeguard the people and ecosystems along the rail lines. Oil trains also pass daily under downtown Seattle and through populated areas of the Puget Sound.
“Governor Inslee and president Obama both hold themselves to be advocates for a sustainable future, but they allow explosive oil to be shipped through neighborhoods and cities,” said high school student Aji Piper, who spoke at the event. Even if the trains don’t explode, they add another layer of fuel to the ticking time-bomb that is climate change. Inslee and Obama are both facing lawsuits brought by children, because they’re not doing enough to protect our rights. We shouldn’t have to fight for our governments to acknowledge the fact that the safety of our citizens is supposed to come before the profit of corporations.”
McGinn also joined local residents concerned for the safety of Washington communities in inviting the nearly 3,000 donors attending Jay Inslee’s fundraiser to wear stickers into the event bearing the words, “I stand with Mosier: Ban Oil Trains”. Of President Obama, he said “National monuments are a fine environmental legacy. Banning oil trains would be better.”
All of this took place outside; inside the fundraiser there was a disruption during the President’s speech.
“This was a rare opportunity to speak directly to the leader of our nation about a dire issue facing our communities,” says Elizabeth Claydon, 24, one of the donors. “As we saw in Mosier, oil trains are a blatant, large-scale public safety hazard. These rolling bombs travel through heavily populated areas, including downtown Seattle. President Obama has the power to ban them with an executive order, and that’s what I’m asking him to do.”
Despite June 3rd’s spill of 42,000 gallons of crude along the Columbia River and a massive fire, activists say that Mosier was very lucky: had wind speeds been what they were the day before, the fire would have spread to homes and a nearby school. Having seen what an oil train fire is like, Mosier Fire Chief Jim Appleton, who was previously neutral about the oil train traffic, now calls oil-by-rail “insane” and says we have to “ban those trains”. The tribes of the Columbia basinpassionately agree, and local mayors are also deeply concerned.
Oregon officials have called for an indefinite moratorium on oil trains through the state; activists are appalled that until today, Governor Inslee merely asked for the trains to slow down in rural communities along with speeding up the switch-over to newer, supposedly safer rail cars. The Mosier incident involved exactly these “safer” cars.
Just this afternoon, the Governor’s office issued a press release about requesting a temporary halt to the UP oil trains for safety reasons…but BNSF trains–of which there are many more in WA–have also exploded repeatedly across the country.
“Oil trains, fracking, pipelines, and export terminals are nothing more than the latest chapter in the ongoing colonization of Native lands and resources,” adds Matt Remle, a Lakota and WA resident who also spoke outside. “We demand an end to this, and seek a transition to a worldview that understands the impact of human activity on the natural world and one that plans for the welfare of the seven generations to come.”
The fact that these trains are still running weeks after Mosier dodged the bullet–and about to run again through Mosier–shows how powerful and insidious fossil fuel business-as-usual is…The fire chief calls it ‘insane’, but none of our elected leaders are principled or bold enough to stop it. The truth is that even without a single fire locally, these trains are an inferno on wheels for the Global South–one more rush to profit while hundreds of thousands of people die, islands are swallowed by the sea, and ecosystems everywhere are at risk. It has to stop.