Another example of the urban-rural divide: Farm Bureau head looks at the “double standard” on rail

We’ve written of the policy tensions dividing urban and rural communities, previously. Just yesterday, we commented on the go-it-alone approach Seattle City Council members are taking regarding income taxes. In a piece also posted yesterday, the Washington Research Council takes a look at Seattle’s idiosyncratic approach to taxation generally. 

John Stuhlmiller, CEO of the Washington Farm Bureau, has written a commentary addressing another instance of urban-rural policy differences. In Capital Press, he says,

Perceptions of railroads appear to be relative to where you live these days.

If you live in the big city, trains that whisk you from one urban center to the next are “state-of-the-art,” but if you live in rural areas, where trains are used to move commodities, they pose a cancer threat.

At least that’s what the state of Washington is telling us.

His commentary pegs off the controversial environmental impact statement the state department of ecology issued on the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals project. We wrote about the EIS here and here

Stuhlmiller points out,

On May 21, the Washington State Department of Transportation rolled out its new Charger locomotives for passenger rail service along the I-5 corridor. As WSDOT notes on its website for the official unveiling event, the new 4,400-horsepower Cummins QSK95 engines are “next generation rail equipment” that will “feature improved fuel efficiency and safety upgrades” and, most importantly, will “meet new, stringent emission standards.”

…just a month earlier, the state Department of Ecology sent a very different message about trains when it issued its final environmental impact statement (FEIS) on the Millennium Bulk Terminals project. In its findings, the agency claimed that trains serving Millennium would increase the potential cancer risk for members of a Longview neighborhood.

He notes that the trains would use the same engines.

Clearly double standards abound on this. Let’s start with the cancer allegations. Why would the same trains used in Seattle increase cancer risks when used in Longview?

The answer likely has to do with what’s being hauled. Because the Longview trains will haul coal, they apparently came under sharper scrutiny than, say, a train carrying people around Seattle. This is a political battle, pure and simple.

And it’s a battle that Stuhlmiller believes has serious consequences.

In the case of Millennium, we’re seeing an agency that has chosen to play favorites with commodities. This sets a dangerous precedent for any industry, but especially agriculture, which just happens to be our state’s second largest sector, right behind aerospace.

We’ve previously linked to this on-point op-ed in the Seattle Times by Mike Bridges, president of the Longview/Kelso Building Trades, IBEW Local 48, and Mike Wallin, a Longview-area real estate agent and a member of the Longview City Council. It’s worth quoting from it again.

Longview is a working-class town built on the natural resources industry with a deep-water port on the Columbia River. Our town has weathered multiple economic downturns. Fortunately, we have a well-established industrial area that is still home to a handful of major global manufacturers who rely on the port to export everything from forest products to agricultural commodities. And now we are looking to add coal to that export mix…

We also do this knowing that a new export terminal would bring 2,650 new jobs to an area of the state eager to put people back to work. Our unemployment rates speak volumes, as do the large number of our families who have to rely on free-and-reduced lunches in our schools each day.

When we consider the sharp differences between the economically vibrant Puget Sound region and still struggling rural communities, Stuhlmiller’s comments, echoed by other ag and business leaders, resonate.