Communities not prepared for risks of crude oil train derailments, Congress told


Seattle's emergency management director testified in the Senate Wednesday that three crude oil trains a week are passing through downtown Seattle, seen here Oct. 22, 2013, but that frequency could increase to three a day once refineries in Washington state are ready to receive them. TISH WELLS — MCT
Seattle’s emergency management director testified in the Senate Wednesday that three crude oil trains a week are passing through downtown Seattle, seen here Oct. 22, 2013, but that frequency could increase to three a day once refineries in Washington state are ready to receive them. TISH WELLS — MCT



WASHINGTON, D.C. – Emergency response officials told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday, April 9, that big cities and small towns alike are unprepared for a disaster on the scale of an oil train derailment and fire last year in Quebec that destroyed part of a town and killed 47 people.

The hearing was only the second on Capitol Hill in recent weeks that sought the perspective of local officials. The federal government has regulatory authority over rail shipments, but the burden of emergency response ultimately falls on local agencies.

The specter of a large-scale crude oil fire and spill has hung over communities across the country since July’s crash in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where firefighters were simply outmatched by the scale and ferocity of the blaze.

“We can handle everyday emergencies,” said Timothy Pellerin, the fire chief of Rangeley, Maine, whose department assisted in the Quebec derailment. “We’re not prepared for a major disaster like this.”

Urban fire departments may have more resources and personnel, but the scale of the threat is a challenge for them, too.

Barb Graff, director of the Seattle Office of Emergency Management, said three loaded crude oil trains a week pass through the city, but that the frequency could increase to three per day when refineries are able to receive them.

“There’s an imbalance when we increase the hazard but we don’t increase the ability of the local community to deal with that hazard,” Graff testified.

The hearing in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies, was led by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. Crude oil shipments not only cross both states in trains, they also cross the border into Canada on North America’s virtually seamless rail network.

In Western Washington, BNSF trains have been hauling crude to the BP Cherry Point refinery on the main line through Bellingham and Ferndale since December 2013. The smaller Phillips 66 refinery to the south expects to begin receiving oil shipments by the end of 2014.

The Tesoro refinery in Anacortes has been getting crude oil by rail since September 2012, and the Anacortes Shell refinery is planning a crude oil rail terminal as well.

Murray said the shipments in Washington state are expected to triple to 55 million barrels this year, and that’s “only the tip of the iceberg.”


Pellerin’s department was one of seven in Maine to assist in Lac-Megantic. He testified that crossing the border into Canada, he could see the plumes of smoke 30 miles away.

They were confronted by multiple problems on arrival. He testified that his radios were not compatible with Canadian frequencies, nor were fire hose couplings in sync. And the Maine firefighters needed an interpreter because their Quebec colleagues spoke only French.

Pellerin said 8,000 gallons of firefighting foam had to be trucked in from a refinery in Toronto, which took several hours.

Neither the railroad nor the oil companies involved in the derailment had a disaster plan, he said. He also said he learned only two weeks ago that the crude oil in the tank cars had been improperly identified.

Pellerin said three railroad representatives arrived in Lac-Megantic on the day of the derailment, took some pictures and left. The company filed for bankruptcy and was sold in December.

“They need to be held responsible for it,” he testified.


Graff said regional emergency managers met with representatives of BNSF Railway recently to discuss the impact of crude oil shipments in Washington state. BNSF, based in Fort Worth, Texas, is the nation’s largest hauler of crude oil in trains and operates routes through Washington state’s major population centers.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed a resolution last month that presses railroads to disclose the volume, frequency and contents of shipments. Railroads are not currently required to do so.

The resolution also calls for an “aggressive” phase-out of older model tank cars known as DOT-111s, which were known to be vulnerable to punctures and ruptures in derailments well before they were pressed into service hauling crude oil and ethanol.

When asked when his department would finish new regulations for tank cars, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told the panel, “We are not going to wait until 2015,” but wouldn’t commit to a specific date. The pace of the rulemaking has frustrated lawmakers on Capitol Hill, as well as state and local officials.

Ed Murray said lawmakers would continue to press the department to move swiftly.

“We certainly are not dropping this topic,” he said. “This is an issue that has to be addressed.”

Quinault Nation Passes Resolution to Oppose Coal Exports

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network, August 16, 2013

The Quinault Indian Business Committee has passed a resolution opposing proposals to export coal from the Pacific Northwest. The resolution, passed Monday, specifically addresses a proposal to transport coal by rail from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming through Washington State for export from Cherry Point in Anacortes. There are other locations in Washington and British Columbia under consideration, including Longview, said Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation.

“This resolution is a strong statement by the Quinault Nation and demonstrates its commitment to protect and promote the health, safety and general welfare of our people,” said Sharp, who is also President of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. “We have determined that the coal trains are detrimental to the health of our people and to the natural resources of our region, and thus in violation of our treaty-protected rights,” she said.

“We have serious concerns about the long-term effects of pollution caused by burning coal from Asian countries, many of which lack the pollution standards we are used to within the United States. Emissions from coal-fired plants have the potential to further threaten our oceans and fisheries, already severely impacted by the acidification of the water, added Sharp.

The Quinault Indian Nation is signatory to the Treaty with the Quinault of 1855. It, along with other Northwest treaties, has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the federal government, including the U.S. Supreme Court, and is thus legally classified as the “supreme law of the land” under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

“Coal dust and diesel particulates will find their way into our air and waterways as these trains pass along and over our rivers, doing damage to natural resources upon which the Nation depends,” said Sharp. “The United States Environmental Protection Agency, Tribal governments, and  environmental organizations have voiced concerns over the threat to human health these proposals bring because of the adverse health effects of coal dust and diesel pollution, including  bronchitis, emphysema, lung damage, asthma, and cancer. Our elders and our children are particularly vulnerable because of sensitivity to the health effects of fine particles,” she said.

“The Quinault Nation’s treaty fishing right includes a right of access to its traditional fishing, hunting, and gathering sites that will be impacted by increased vessel and rail traffic.

In the Resolution, the Quinault Business Committee expresses its solidarity and support for the “no” position  regarding the Gateway Pacific Terminal proposal adopted by the  Lummi Indian Business Council, based on documented disturbance of sacred burial grounds and proposed fill of that area for the purpose of containing over a hundred acres of coal piles.

The Resolution also endorses the words of Billy Frank, Jr., Nisqually tribal elder and longtime chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission that, “We are at a legal and biological crossroads in our efforts to recover the salmon and preserve our tribal cultures, subsistence, spirituality, and economies. Not since the darkest days of the fishing rights struggle have we feared so deeply for the future of our treaty rights.” Quinault Nation, one of 20 member tribes of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, is signatory to “Treaty Rights at Risk” submitted to the federal government by that Commission. Among other things, that report states that coal export proposals will, in fact, further endanger Treaty Rights.

The Quinault Resolution will be submitted to President Obama, key members of the federal Administration, key members of Congress and to Governor Inslee.


Lummi Nation Opposes Development of Cherry Point Export Terminal with Letter to Corps of Engineers

Position calls into question future of massive Gateway Pacific shipping facility

Source: Pyramid Communications

LUMMI INDIAN RESERVATION, BELLINGHAM, Wash.—Building the proposed Gateway Pacific export terminal and rail spur at Cherry Point would “have a substantial impairment on the Lummi treaty fishing right,” the Lummi Nation said in a formal opposition letter sent this week to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Opposition by the tribe could imperil the terminal and rail spur.

“It will make us reassess the direction we are going,” Muffy Walker, the Corps’ district regulatory branch chief was quoted as saying by The Bellingham Herald. The Corps of Engineers has authority to grant permits necessary to build the terminal. “We have denied permits in the past, based on tribal concerns,” Walker was quoted as saying.

In the letter, Lummi Indian Business Council Chair Tim Ballew writes, “Any impact on the Lummi treaty fishing right is inherently an impact on the Lummi way of life…. We believe that the Corps should see that these projects would without question result in significant and unavoidable impacts and damage to our treaty rights.

Lummi Indians maintain the largest Native fishing fleet in the United States, and Lummi fishers have worked in the XweChiexen (Cherry Point) fishery for thousands of years.

If constructed, the Gateway Pacfic export terminal would be the largest coal terminal on the West Coast of North America. It would significantly degrade an already fragile and vulnerable crab, herring and salmon fishery, dealing a devastating blow to the economy of the fisher community.

“It is imperative that the Corps carry out its trust responsibilities as they relate to the Lummi Nation and the treaty rights to fish, gather and hunt in the usual and accustomed places,” Ballew wrote.

The complete text of the letter follows.

July 30, 2013

Colonel Bruce A. Estok, District Engineer
US Army Corps of Engineers – Seattle District
PO Box 3755
Seattle, WA 98124

Lummi Opposition:  Proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal Bulk Dry Goods Shipping Facility (Ref. No. NWS-2008-260) and the Custer Spur Rail Expansion (Ref. No. NWS-2011-325) Projects



Dear Colonel Estok,

The Lummi Nation has unconditional and unequivocal opposition to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal (Ref. No. NWS-2008-260) and the inter-related Custer Spur Rail Expansion project (Ref. No. NWS-2011-325) projects at Cherry Point.  As described in our resolution 2012-060 and in our previous letters dated October 17, 2011 and January 21, 2013 (attached), the Lummi Nation has a number of significant objections to the proposed projects.


In developing the Lummi Nation’s position on the projects, the Nation heeded the following principles:

  1. “Everything is connected.” As our elders conveyed through our Xwlemi’chosen (Lummi language) that cultural and spiritual significances expressed by our ancestors for the land, water and the environment are all connected.
  2. “We must manage our resources for the seventh generation of our people.” Our unique heritage requires us to honor our past, present and future generations. Since time immemorial we have managed resources that we are borrowing from our children and grandchildren.
  3. As a tribal government, we have adopted the critical goal that we must preserve, promote, and protect our Schelangen (“way of life”).

Review of the known facts, data, site plans, and the development and operational goals of the projects have resulted in a clear and convincing conclusion that the proposed projects, if built and operated, would have a substantial impairment on the Lummi treaty fishing right harvest at XweChiexen (Cherry Point) and throughout the Lummi “usual and accustomed” fishing areas. Any impact on the Lummi treaty fishing right is inherently an impact on the Lummi way of life.  The Lummi Nation cannot see how the proposed projects could be developed in a manner that does not amount to significant impairment on the treaty fishing right and a negative effect on the Lummi way of life. Please recognize this letter as a clear statement of opposition to these projects from the Lummi Nation.


The Lummi Nation expects that the Corps of Engineers (Corps), on behalf of the United States of America, to honor the trust obligations to the Lummi Nation related to these proposed projects. We believe that the Corps should see that these projects would without question result in significant and unavoidable impacts and damage to our treaty rights.  If the projects at Cherry Point are constructed and operated there will be impacts on the Lummi treaty rights forever.  It is imperative that the Corps carry out its trust responsibilities as they relate to the Lummi Nation and the treaty rights to fish, gather and hunt in the usual and accustomed places.


These comments in no way waive any future opportunity to participate in government-to-government consultation regarding the proposed projects and the associated state or federal government issued permits.   Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the attached comments or to schedule a government-to-government meeting regarding these projects.



Tim Ballew II, Chair
Lummi Indian Business Council