"MOSIER, Ore. — The Chinook salmon that Randy Settler and other Yakama tribal fishermen are pulling from the Columbia River are large and plentiful this summer, part of one of the biggest spawning runs since the 1960s. It is a sign, they say, of the river’s revitalization, through pollution regulations and ambitious fish hatchery programs.
But barely four miles upstream from the fishermen’s nets, state workers are still cleaning up after a major oil train derailment in June. About 47,000 gallons of heavy Bakken crude bound from North Dakota spilled when 16 Union Pacific cars accordioned off the tracks. All of it, Oregon environmental officials said, might have gone into the river but for a stroke of luck that carried the oil instead into a water treatment plant a few hundred feet from the riverbank.
That juxtaposition — the rebounding river coming a hair’s breadth from disaster — has resonated across the Pacific Northwest and brought about a day of reckoning. From ballot boxes to the governors’ desks in Oregon and Washington, a corner of the nation that seemed poised only a few years ago to become a new energy hub is now gripped by a debate over whether transporting volatile, hazardous crude oil by rail through cities and environmentally delicate areas can ever be made safe enough."