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An oil train protest in 2015 in Seattle, Washington

Demonstrators rally against oil trains in 2015 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo: Stand.Earth/flickr.cc)

Dirty and Deadly Oil Train Projects Meet Defeat in California and Washington

'The American people have spoken: They do not want dirty and dangerous fossil fuel projects that will threaten their communities, their clean air and water, and the climate'

Nika Knight Beauchamp

In what environmentalists described as a "historic victory," two separate proposed oil train facilities in Washington and California were roundly defeated this week.

"A few years ago, oil trains were the industry's back-door approach to getting crude oil to the market. Today, communities and decision makers along the West Coast are slamming that door shut."
—Matt Krogh, Stand
The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission on Wednesday voted 3-2 to reject a Phillips 66 oil train project, an outcome that was met by a standing ovation.

"Here's one for the people," said Martin Akel, a member of Mesa Refinery Watch, a group that opposes the rail-spur project, according to local newspaper The Tribune. "The commissioners got it finally. We finally beat back a major business institution that only had its self-interests in mind, not the people."

The Tribune describes the extent of Phillips 66's proposal:

Phillips 66 had sought approval to build a 1.3-mile rail spur from its Nipomo Mesa refinery to the main rail line so it could receive crude oil by train. The refinery now gets its crude by pipeline. The proposal called for deliveries from three 80-car trains per week, with each train hauling about 2.2 million gallons of crude oil.

The decision surprised observers, as a measure to defeat the project had failed on a 3-2 vote in May. The swing vote, Commissioner Jim Irving, said he changed his vote because "I don't think the case has been made that we can override the recommendations of our staff and the county, so I will [be] voting against it."

Indeed, many locals and officials from the county as well as neighboring regions had come out against the proposal, fearing that a derailment could spill oil and contaminate land throughout the railway's proposed route.

County Commissioner Eric Meyer read an impassioned statement before the vote asking his fellow commissioners to help defeat the facility, saying, "How can you ignore the actual pleas of our neighboring representatives who represent more than 10 million citizens [in California]. You are willing to accept the possibility of a death, or 20, or 100 […] so this oil company can achieve a higher margin."

Meanwhile, Shell finally admitted defeat Thursday on an oil train facility in the small coastal town of Anacortes, Washington, by withdrawing its application for the project.

The plan would have brought fracked oil from Bakken fields of North Dakota to Anacortes by train, according to the Seattle Times.

More than 35,000 people had submitted public comments calling for the project to be rejected, notes the Sierra Club.

"This is a historic victory for the people of Skagit [County] and across Washington," said Stephanie Hillman, Northwest campaign representative for the Sierra Club. "The people of Washington continue to lead the charge to keep dirty fuels in the ground, with tens of thousands of people blocking this dirty and dangerous project."

"Today's announcement by Shell confirms a sea change in sentiment over the acceptability of allowing explosive oil trains through our communities," said Matt Krogh of Stand. "A few years ago, oil trains were the industry's back-door approach to getting crude oil to the market. Today, communities and decision makers along the West Coast are slamming that door shut."

"The American people have spoken: They do not want dirty and dangerous fossil fuel projects that will threaten their communities, their clean air and water, and the climate," added Lena Moffitt, director of Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign. "The only solution is to keep dirty fuels in the ground, and hasten our transition onto 100 percent clean, renewable energy."


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