Oregon leaders: Halt oil trains through Gorge for now

16 cars derailed in the Gorge on June 3

An aerial view of an oil train that derailed near Mosier in the Columbia River Gorge, June 3, 2016 (KOIN)
An aerial view of an oil train that derailed near Mosier in the Columbia River Gorge, June 3, 2016 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon’s United States senators, congressional representatives and Gov. Brown issued a joint statement Monday calling for a temporary halt to oil trains rolling through the Columbia River Gorge.

The statement from Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici and the governor comes on the heels ofthe 16-car derailment and subsequent fire of an oil train in Mosier. The fire burned for hours, the water system is compromised, some oil was found in the Columbia River and homes were evacuated for days.

Though train cars are still off on the side of the rail, Union Pacific has begun rolling trains through the same spot.

Official estimate:
— 42,000 gallons crude escaped from 4 rail cars
— 10,000 gallons recovered from wastewater system
Remainder either:
— vaporized
— burned off
— captured by booms in Columbia River
— absorbed by oil
— some remaining in wastewater lines
Information from ODOT

Their joint statement:

“Oil train tankers are still lying on their sides in Mosier, the ground and water have yet to be cleaned up, and there’s still no good explanation for the cause of Friday’s crash. It is too soon to resume oil train traffic through the Columbia River Gorge. Union Pacific should not resume oil train traffic before meeting with the community of Mosier and giving a thorough explanation for the cause of this accident and an assurance that the company is taking the necessary steps to prevent another one. A train full of toxic crude oil derailing, burning, and exploding near homes, schools, and businesses is a worst fear realized for people who live in Mosier and in other communities along the tracks throughout the Gorge. They deserve to know that the causes of this derailment have been both identified and fixed, and there should be a moratorium on oil train traffic until they get those explanations and assurances. We will also be pushing for the Department of Transportation to take a hard look at alternative routes for oil and hazardous material trains that would put fewer Oregonians at risk of a dangerous crash in their backyards.”

Their concern for people in Oregon rubs up against federal interest in commerce.

“If Washington bans the transmission of oil by train, and Oregon bans the transmission of oil by train and California bans the transmission of oil by train, then there’s not going to any oil going to any Pacific coast port,” said attorney Charlie Hinkle, an expert in these issues. “That would have a dramatic impact on oil producers in the rest of the country.”

Hinkle said if Oregon banned oil trains, then presumably the rail company or the oil company would sue the state to have the law invalidated by the federal commerce clause of the US Constitution.

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