Climate Justice in Vancouver

One year ago, an oil train headed for Tacoma derailed and caught fire in Mosier, Oregon, spilling 47,000 gallons of volatile Bakken crude oil.  That event alerted the nation to the threat that the proposed Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Terminal – what would be the largest oil-by-rail refinery in the nation –poses to communities along the railroad.  But had those train cars made it to Tacoma, that oil would have instead been refined and exported, polluting our atmosphere and contributing to climate change.

Earlier this month, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, vacating America’s position of leadership in the global fight to protect our planet. That same day, Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee had an announcement of his own: he and Governors Brown of California and Cuomo of New York created the United States Climate Alliance, condemning the President’s action and signaling that the States would lead the fight to protect our planet.  And rightly so.

Climate change is a global phenomenon, but it’s caused by countless local decisions. This summer, Governor Inslee’s commitment to addressing climate change and the pollution it causes will be tested as he decides whether to approve the Tesoro Savage Terminal, which will have the capacity to process 360,000 barrels of oil per day.

Northwesterners of all stripes are coming together against the development of new fossil fuel infrastructure. Our region is the gateway to Asian energy markets for crude oil and coal exports from Canada and the Midwest. We recognize that this infrastructure puts our health at risk as much as it does the planet’s well-being, and that our low-income communities of color will be harmed first and worst in both scenarios.

Vancouver’s Fruit Valley neighborhood would be the Tesoro Savage terminal’s frontline community. Fruit Valley is the closest residential area to the proposed site and it is home to mostly low-income Latino residents. Washington State’s Department of Health also ranks the area highly for poor health outcomes and risk for worsening health, based on social and economic determinants locally. The threat of an explosion at the terminal or an oil spill on the railroad would harm Fruit Valley first and worst, and the additional barriers of poverty, poor health, and linguistic isolation would make such an event more devastating to this neighborhood than more affluent areas. Residents of Fruit Valley have voiced their opposition to the oil terminal, and Governor Inslee should follow their lead.

President Trump and proponents of the terminal like to pit the environment against the promise of jobs.  But local residents are rightfully concerned that the company would import high-skilled workers from elsewhere and that the only jobs left over for locals would be low-paying, high-risk, and short-lived. Washington State has already proven this is a false choice. The number of jobs in our state’s solar sector grew by 63 percent in 2016 alone, and these workers’ median wages of $26 per hour outpace coal miners’ by more than $4000 over the course of a year – and there’s no version of black lung in the solar industry.

In forming the United States Climate Alliance, Governor Inslee did not just commit an act of rhetorical resistance; he made a commitment that Washington State will do its part to keep crude oil in the ground, and to protect the residents of Mosier, Fruit Valley, and countless other towns along the railroad.  This is the leadership that our communities and our planet requires.

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