By Justin Mikulka
On Jan. 29, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee rejected a permit required for Tesoro-Savage to build the Vancouver Energy oil-by-rail facility, the largest such project in the nation, at the Port of Vancouver, along the Washington-Oregon border. The governor explained the basis of his decision, which followed a several year long process, in a letter to the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council:
"When weighing all of the factors considered against the need for and potential benefits of the facility at this location, I believe the record reflects substantial evidence that the project does not meet the broad public interest standard necessary for the Council to recommend site certification."Vancouver Energy, a joint venture of Tesoro and Savage, has not yet commented on the decision but has 30 days to file an appeal. Local environmental groups, however, were quick to applaud the news.
"This project was absurdly dangerous and destructive, and Governor Inslee saw these risks clearly," said Dan Serres, conservation director of Columbia Riverkeeper. "The threat of an earthquake or accident creating an oil spill in the Columbia River poses far too great a risk to the Columbia, its salmon and its people."
Serres and the governor both outlined why many oil-by-rail projects have been fiercely opposed by local communities: The projects offer huge risks and very little reward for the communities where they are located. The Vancouver Energy terminal would have resulted in oil train traffic hauling more than 131 million barrels of oil along the Columbia Gorge and transferred to ships bound for West Coast refineries.
The governor's decision came a week after three rail employees involved in the deadly Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, oil-by-rail disaster were acquitted, a situation which makes the potential risks of moving explosive oil through communities readily apparent.
Lac-Mégantic before and after the oil train explosion.Claude Grenier / Studio Numéra / Lac-Mégantic
In Washington they don't need to look as far as Lac-Mégantic to see the risks of moving oil-by-rail.
In 2016 a train carrying Bakken oil through the Columbia River Gorge derailed and caught fire in Mosier, Oregon. By all accounts Mosier was very lucky that day and avoided a much larger disaster. The proposed Tesoro-Savage facility would have meant many more oil trains moving through the Columbia River Gorge, which straddles Washington and Oregon.
Listening to the Will of the People
One could argue that with this decision, Gov. Inslee is simply doing his job by representing the people he serves. While the final decision about this project's future was the governor's to make, in November 2017 the voters of Vancouver were given an opportunity to voice their opinion about this project at the ballot box—and the vote wasn't even close.
Last year two candidates—one for the oil train project and one against—ran for the open seat on the Port of Vancouver board of commissioners, which would be charged with decisions related to the proposed Tesoro-Savage facility. Don Orange, who opposed the oil-by-rail project, won that election with almost 65 percent of the vote.
Orange was elected despite his opponent receiving more than $600,000 in campaign funding, with 90 percent of it coming from the companies behind the oil-by-rail facility and its backers. That's a lot of money pouring into a campaign for an elected position that pays less than $20,000 a year.
Earlier this month Commissioner Orange and the other two port commissioners voted to not renew the company's lease if the project did not have all required permits and licenses by March 31.
Big Victory Caps a String of Success for Oil-by-Rail Activists
By itself, the rejection of the Port of Vancouver oil-by-rail facility would represent a major victory for activists opposing oil and rail projects, as it would have been the largest facility of its kind in the nation. However, the outcome caps a string of wins for West Coast communities fighting against new oil-by-rail facilities in their midst.
That was preceded by the Washington Supreme Court voting unanimously to deny an oil-by-rail project in Grays Harbor because that project lacked a comprehensive environmental review and did not consider the Ocean Resources Management Act.
Also in 2017, a proposed Phillips 66 oil-by-rail project in California was voted down by the San Luis Obispo County planning commission.
In 2016 the city council in Benicia, California, voted unanimously to reject Valero's proposed oil-by-rail project. The Benicia project also resulted in another victory for local communities when the Surface Transportation Board ruled that local communities had the right to weigh in on oil-by-rail projects proposed in their area.
The Benicia decision was a situation that Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor acknowledged had national implications. "The community of Benicia, in the crosshairs of history, made one of those decisions that will make a difference for the country. They stood up and said the safety of our communities matters," he said.
That decision gave communities the right to say whether or not they wanted to absorb a large part of the risks of oil-by-rail projects when it was oil and rail companies reaping the rewards.
The Fight Continues
In June of this year I wrote about how the oil industry had long-term plans to use rail to move oil to West Coast refineries. At the time, I mentioned that Kevin Sheys, an industry lawyer speaking to the 2016 Energy by Rail conference, made a presentation that included a slide stating that that the biggest threat facing the industry was "Local Regulation of Crude Oil/Ethanol Unit Train Unloading Projects."
Unhappy with local communities having some say in such matters, Sheys said, "I think that in the next four years, there is an issue that the administration will have to deal with … and the issue is local regulation of crude oil and ethanol unit train unloading projects."
As Gov. Inslee and the state of Washington have shown, Sheys prediction seems to be spot on.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.