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Should Washington ditch trains in favor of an oil pipeline? One state senator thinks so

oil train, transportation
Flickr Photo/Russ Allison Loar (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/
Oil train

The oil train spill June 3 in Mosier, Oregon was the latest of about 20 oil train derailments in the US since 2013. The group Earth Justice tracks derailments and spills with an online map.

One Washington lawmaker says there's a way to limit the danger of derailments or oil spills in this state: build an oil pipeline. (The state already has some fuel pipelines, but not one that's state-wide.)

Trains are used to carry oil across Washington to send it overseas. Oil trains started crossing Washington state in 2012.

Republican state Sen. Michael Baumgartner said because of safety concerns, the state should consider an east-west oil pipeline and do away with train shipments. He said pipelines are safer than oil trains.

Baumgartner said oil can sometimes be a dangerous commodity, especially when it’s sent through highly populated cities by train.

"It would make more sense to look at going straight across the northern, sparsely populated part of the state, potentially following the route already laid out by our electricity/transmission lines,” by building an oil pipeline, he said.

Last year Baumgartner introduced a bill seeking a pipeline study. It didn't get traction, but he hopes to introduce it again.

The environmental think-tank Sightline Institute says Washington doesn't need a pipeline. The group says for that matter, the state doesn’t need to allow oil trains either.

Policy director Eric de Place said Washington doesn't get much financial benefit from allowing these oil shipments, and that the oil all leaves Washington.

"Should the refineries on the north Puget Sound and in Tacoma continue to be allowed to receive oil trains?” he said. "I think the answer from the safety record is clearly no, it's a bad idea."

He said the state could stop oil trains by denying certain permits to refineries.

Sen.Baumgartner said the state should at least study the topic of an oil pipeline.