In April, Washingtons Senator Maria Cantwell was warning Seattle about the risk posed by crude oil trains. Then, in December, Cantwell voted for a spending package that lifted the countrys ban on crude oil exports.
In April, Washington's Senator Maria Cantwell was warning Seattle about the risk posed by crude oil trains. Then, in December, Cantwell voted for a spending package that lifted the country's ban on crude oil exports. SB

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Washington’s congressional delegation has made a lot of noise in recent years over the lack of regulations safeguarding cities like Seattle from the risk of exploding oil trains. Nevertheless, Washington Democratic senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, helped pass the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending package, which included lifting the country’s 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports.

According to a Cantwell spokesperson, the omnibus deal included too many goodies for Washington to refuse, including an extension of a sales- tax deduction, a low- income housing tax credit, more money for the Hanford nuclear cleanup, and a renewable energy incentive. “We would have preferred if the export ban wasn't in the bill,” Cantwell spokesperson Rosemarie Calabro Tully said.

A spokeswoman for Senator Patty Murray echoed a similar sentiment:

Senator Murray has long opposed lifting the ban on oil exports and was disappointed that the Republican Majority insisted on including it in the year-end budget deal. While this was not the bill that Senator Murray would have written on her own, she was very glad that it included so many Washington state and middle class priorities, such as increased investments in education and health care, tax cuts for workers and low income families, the renewal of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the permanent extension of the sales tax deduction, and so much more.

So where does that leave Seattle’s relationship with crude oil trains? “Nowhere good,” said the Sightline Institute's Eric de Place. With hungry East Asian energy markets suddenly open to America’s Bakken crude oil, Seattle and other oil-by-rail cities near the Washington coast could become even busier petro-hubs, he warned.

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According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), an increase of crude oil production—and therefore an increase in crude oil shipments—depends on the price of oil. In one study, the EIA concluded that under its most likely scenario production of crude oil wouldn’t increase because of low oil prices. In other scenarios, however, the EIA estimated that production could rise by up to 470 barrels per day by 2025. The American Petroleum Institute has also projected an increase in production up until 2035.

Republican House speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) compared the lifting of the ban to “having 100 Keystone pipelines.”

Climate watchers are now concerned that the decision to lift the ban has undermined the United States’ commitment to the Paris climate accord. “One of the things that I thought came out of Paris was that we needed to keep oil and coal in the ground, and how we transition away from those industries,” de Place said. “And instead [the president] comes back and gives the oil industry a couple of items on their wish list that will strengthen their hand."