The Roundup -

MPA Stands with BNSF


In response to recent actions taken by the Spokane City Council to place an ordinance to fine the transportation of oil and “uncontained coal” on the ballot in a special election, the Montana Petroleum Association (MPA) voices its opposition.

“Over many years the economy in Washington state grew on the backs of hardworking Montanans supplying them with resources that were not available in Washington, now they are bound and determined to make Montana pay for their social conscience,” said Alan Olson, Executive Director of MPA.

BNSF estimates that based on one to three 90- to 110-car oil trains passing through Spokane daily, the approved ballot measure would result in daily fines which could exceed $150,000, based on the maximum penalty fine.

The proposed ordinance will have a ripple effect across the BNSF railroad network, directly impacting the ability of Montana to move energy resources affordably to market. This job killing proposal is not only unnecessary, it preempts federal law and bypasses significantly more effective means of improving public safety; including collaboration with federal regulators and Congress and BNSF.

Under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, state laws that conflict with federal law must yield to federal law. Railroads fall under the jurisdiction of the federal Surface Transportation Board. As such, common carriers such as BNSF are legally bound to deliver service upon reasonable request so as not to disrupt interstate commerce; including commodities such as energy and fuel resources.

If enacted, the ordinance would be preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 and the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) of 1970. The purpose of the FRSA is “to promote safety in every area of railroad operations and reduce railroad-related accidents and incidents.” The FRSA contains a preemption provision which states that, “Laws, regulations, and orders related to railroad safety and laws, regulations, and orders related to railroad security shall be nationally uniform to the extent practicable.” Furthermore, the provision states that laws, regulations, and orders may not be incompatible with a law, regulation, or order of the United States Government, or unreasonably burdensome to interstate commerce.

The proposal also violates the Commerce Clause to the U.S. Constitution, setting the stage for an arduous legal battle at the expense of tax payers, if implemented.

BNSF invests more than $100 million dollars annually in Washington on maintaining freight capacity by rail. Significant investments are routinely made on maintenance and infrastructure to ensure the best possible condition for the safe and timely transport of commodities. This year alone, BNSF is investing $4.2 billion across its railroad system.

The ordinance sought by the Spokane City Council is yet another ploy in the keep it in the ground campaign to obstruct the fossil fuel industry.

Should the Council be successful in the special election to implement their proposal, an unlawful precedent will be set for future state regulation which conflicts with federal law and hinders the transportation of our most affordable, abundant, and reliable energy resources.


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