More than 150 elected officials from across the Northwest have teamed up to speak out against coal and oil trains. Their new group, the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance, held its third meeting in Portland Tuesday.
Washington's King County Executive Dow Constantine has stepped up to chair the group. It includes officials from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and British Columbia.
The leaders have major concerns about the safety and environmental risks of coal and oil trains. But none of them alone has much power to stop them.
"There is certainly a big challenge for any of us individually," Constantine said. "I represent a jurisdiction of 2 million people with a multi-billion-dollar budget, yet the possibility of an oil train derailing and polluting Puget Sound or one of our rivers or a train exploding in downtown Seattle is well beyond our capacity even as one of the largest local jurisdictions in the country."
The local leaders are hoping that banding together will give them a louder voice and more power to stop new oil and coal terminals from being approved.
Mark Gamba, a city councilor in Milwaukie, Oregon, says if an oil train derails while passing through his town, it could take out the fire station and any chance of containing the damage. He's hoping there's power in numbers to stem the rising tide of oil train traffic through the region.
"We're small fish really," Gamba said. "When you think about a city councilor in Milwaukie, and you're going up against the railroads, you don't have a chance in hell. But when you're talk about 150 city councilors and county commissioners and tribal leaders and legislators and metro councilors, that all of a sudden is something to be reckoned with."
At the meeting Tuesday, the group agreed to send a letter of support for a Washington bill that would improve oil train safety, and to reach out to Oregon's new governor Kate Brown with their concerns. They also heard a presentation on the increasing risk of oil and coal transport in the Columbia River Gorge and discussed surveying first responders across the region on how prepared they are to handle an oil train derailment.