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Question: What would happen if a city directs it's police force to block oil or coal?

Discussion in 'Energy, Environment, and Policy' started by nwdiver, Jun 28, 2016.

  1. nwdiver

    nwdiver Active Member

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    #1 nwdiver, Jun 28, 2016
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2016
    Edmonds, WA voted to ban oil and coal train shipments through the city... I'm sure there's some interstate commerce thing that makes this legally impossible but what would happen if protestors blocked the tracks and the local police refused to act? What if they protected the protestors from the State Police? What if the State Police refused to act?

    Such disobedience isn't without precedent... it was used for a much less wholesome purpose with the 'Little Rock 9'...

    Railroads have to pass through a lot of cities and counties... it only takes 1 to block them...
     
  2. TaoJones

    TaoJones Beyond Driven

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    You mean like here? Oakland bans coal shipments in a blow to planned export facility

    Seems it's spreading.

    When I was in Bar Harbor, Maine earlier this month, there were pollution alerts due to coal and other industrial pollution from the MidWorst combined with a shifted jet stream. Dumped the particulate matter right onto Cadillac Mountain/Acadia National Park (2nd-most visited national park in the country). The elderly, infirm, and very young were advised to remain indoors.

    Tangentially, California will soon have zero operational nuclear plants as Diablo (built adjacent multiple fault lines) is being decommissioned. However, power will still be purchased from nuclear plants in adjacent states including Palos Verdes in Arizona.

    I have a feeling that all of the exempted activity in the combined ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach exceeds the impact of coal transport statewide. Between the ships, trains, and trucks, it ain't pretty.

    Will be interesting to see how municipalities handle polluting agents as time goes on.
     
  3. kort677

    kort677 Active Member

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  4. Ludus

    Ludus Member

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    If you have enough protesters willing to serve long jail sentences over this issue then it would start to have some effect. Police who refused orders would be fired.

    I doubt there's that sort of passion over this symbolic act.
     
  5. nwdiver

    nwdiver Active Member

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    Fired by who? This thread is about a city ordering its police force to either stand down or assist protestors. If Edmonds directed its police to comply with the city council they would be following orders...
     
  6. cpa

    cpa Member

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    Let me get my lawyer's hat, here--wait a minute--oh. They are telling me that I am not a lawyer.

    I believe that the reference to interstate commerce is correct. Therefore it is a federal matter and federal crimes. A local insurrection that prohibits interstate commerce and is abetted by the politicians and law enforcement would likely cause the feds to do some drastic things like ordering the governor to call in the National Guard, and maybe even stop cutting the checks that these cities, counties and states rely upon. (Remember how the feds coerced the states to raise the drinking age to 21? Do you?)

    The feds can get downright nasty over certain issues. (See Bundy, Cliven et al awaiting trial in Nevada and his sons in Oregon.) And I think that collusion to obstruct interstate commerce would be a hot button for them, even though no one was injured or harmed.

    Finally, law enforcement takes an oath to uphold the laws of their locality and the Constitutions of the United States and their states. I would argue that a law enforcement officer is well within his duties to disobey any order--whether from a superior or from a city official--that would violate that oath.
     
  7. neroden

    neroden Happy Model S Owner

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    Practically speaking, it's damn near impossible for the federal government to fight a state and a large city on its home territory when the popular opinion is on the side of the state and city.

    It's hard to fight popular opinion at *all*, and fundamentally the feds don't have the manpower. If the state government declares that (for example) they consider marijuana legal, that they consider the federal laws against it to be null and void, and that their law enforcement officials are prohibited from enforcing those laws or assisting in enforcing them, there is really not much the federal government can do; they can just about keep their own DEA agents out of state prison, but that's about it, and there aren't really very many DEA agents. They can't even call out the National Guard, because it's normally under the command of the governor, and if the governor orders them to work for the state and not for the federal government, you know which way it'll go. Anyway, I picked a real example there.

    In practice, coal export terminals will not happen without local approval. The Native American nations have been the best at stopping them because they have uncontrovertible sovereign rights, and those are only overturned when federal judges are corrupt.

    No major city or state has decided to actually stop coal trains from running through on the way to somewhere else -- they've simply stated that they would like the federal government to stop them. But several have made life very difficult for the coal trains by stringently enforcing every rule about coal dust they can think of. The railroads like a quiet life and will route trains through the route with the least opposition.

    There's basically no alternate routes in the PacNW, however, thanks to an extremely underbuilt rail network; until the Centralia power plant shuts down, coal will probably still run through Edmonds. The railroads will quite rightly say that they aren't the ones demanding the coal.

    I question why oil is running through Edmonds at all, since it doesn't seem to be on any logical route from any producer to any end-user. BNSF might reroute their oil trains just to reduce liability; running them through the tunnel under downtown Seattle (which is on the route through Edmonds) is a huge liability risk for them.
     

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