Vancouver, Washington – Stand on the banks of the mighty Columbia River, and in the foggy mist of a Pacific Northwest winter, you may miss the rail tracks that lie on both of its banks. The panoramic vista will give you a sense of why front-line communities have long vowed to protect it from being expanded into a high-volume fossil-fuel corridor, years before Congress lifted the ban on US crude oil exports in late 2015.
The Columbia, which rises in the Canadian Rockies and flows on a long southern journey before it empties into the Pacific Ocean, has been central to the region’s culture and economy for thousands of years. Its salmon runs were sacred to Columbia River basin Indigenous tribes. Its scenic beauty has been protected in national parks and wildlife refuges. Its energy has been captured for hydropower, irrigation and shipping. The first railroad came to the Columbia River Gorge in 1851 and in the new century, tracks were laid along both sides of its banks for freight and passengers.