Jobs from oil train terminals? Three Northwest car guys know better

An oil train passing through Portland. (Photo from Flickr by Sam Beebe)
An oil train passing through Portland. (Photo from Flickr by Sam Beebe)

As three car guys who run repair shops in three different corners of the Northwest, we can tell you that oil trains and oil terminals are job killers and bad news for every local economy they target.

Texas-based Tesoro Corporation maintains that oil trains are safe, despite fourteen derailments (and twelve fires) in the last three years alone. They claim that oil is a boon for local economies, but they downplay the damage it would do to our cities’ livability and safety.  If the last three years of oil train explosions have taught us anything, it’s that our communities are ready to move towards safer, cleaner energy.

The Pacific Northwest is facing a potential blitz of dirty, dangerous oil trains. From British Columbia through Washington and Oregon, fossil fuel companies are invading our region with the goal of getting crude oil from the interior of the continent to the Pacific, where it is to be refined and exported.

With the Keystone XL Pipeline rejected, and the forty-year-old federal ban on crude oil exports recently lifted, all eyes are on proposed oil train terminals that could transform the Northwest communities into dirty oil towns.

When was the last time you saw brewers, IT engineers, merchants, restaurateurs, retailers, farmers, designers, healthcare providers and many others speaking out together? They are doing it now because they know that oil towns are not places where diverse business models thrive.

The biggest project of them all is the proposed Tesoro-Savage oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver on the Columbia River. It would daily receive over 15 million gallons of volatile crude oil (almost half of Keystone’s volume) traveling on trains through the busy city centers of Spokane, Vancouver, and many towns along the long train route and the Columbia River basin.

Business owners, firefighters, and our neighborhood leaders are looking for strong leadership from our Port officials and Washington Governor Inslee to steer our communities away from North America’s largest oil-by-rail terminal.

Painting the issue as a “jobs versus environment” fight is convenient for corporate PR, but a far cry from the truth. As business owners who rely on local family-wage incomes, we know that the prospect of living and working along oil train routes and oil storage depots is increasingly worrying to our neighbors and customers.

We are not alone; business opposition to oil trains and the Vancouver oil terminal is truly remarkable. When was the last time you saw brewers, IT engineers, merchants, restaurateurs, retailers, farmers, designers, healthcare providers and many others speaking out together?  They are doing it now because they know that oil towns are not places where diverse business models thrive.

A poster at Compass Coffee in Vancouver, WA. (Courtesy photo)
A poster at Compass Coffee in Vancouver, WA. (Courtesy photo)

The proposed oil terminal in Vancouver will destroy more jobs than it creates in our communities. Companies that are in a position to relocate in order to avoid the risk, the pollution and the bad reputation will do so. Businesses considering our cities as potential home base sites will decide to look elsewhere.  Every time that happens we will lose those owners and their employees as our customers.

This is why over one hundred Vancouver businesses are speaking out and why their peers from Spokane all the way to Astoria and Long Beach are joining them. This is why over 2,000 people came out on cold January nights in Spokane and Vancouver to testify at hearings on the Tesoro-Savage oil terminal. This is why port authorities are being challenged to live up to transparency and public accountability, and why Portland became the first major U.S. city to ban all new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Businesses adapt. Before there were cars, today’s site of Hawthorne Auto in Portland was repairing horse carriages and buggies. The business evolved along with the many transformations of car and energy industries. Hoesly Eco in Vancouver has been in continuous operation since 1946, and helped start Vancouver 101 ― a coalition of small businesses fighting for Vancouver’s downtown against the oil terminal. The youngest of us, Spokane’s Patriotic Motors, is a leader in electric conversions with clients across the country.

One of the crowd sourced photos from the Vancouver 101 campaign of businesses and citizens opposed to the oil terminal. (Courtesy photo)
One of the crowd sourced photos from the Vancouver 101 campaign of businesses and citizens opposed to the oil terminal. (Courtesy photo)

The vehicles our customers drive are rapidly changing. Hybrid and electric alternatives continue to become more affordable, on track to reach a tipping point. Fossil fuels are an outgoing twentieth century technology. Turning the Northwest into an oil region at this juncture makes sense only if you are a faraway corporation looking to squeeze out profits, unburdened by the implications and the impact on local communities.

Small businesses and communities are making their voices heard. Politicians and decision makers— from Governor Inslee, who has the final say over the Vancouver oil terminal, to Vancouver Port Commissioners who have to make a new decision on the lease for Tesoro — ought to pay attention.

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