The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) last week filed a lawsuit in a Los Angeles superior court regarding environmental concerns associated with BNSF Railway Co.'s proposed Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) intermodal facility. The city of Long Beach, Calif., filed a suit earlier this year raising similar environmental issues.
The NRDC claims the proposed project violates the California Environmental Quality Act, as well as state and federal civil rights acts. In addition, the facility would elevate cancer and child asthma rates, and increase air pollution in the region by adding 1 million truck trips and thousands of train trips, council officials say.
Cleaner alternatives for both truck and rail transportation could be adopted in the area, such as the utilization of Tier 3 and Tier 4 locomotives, an expansion of on-dock rail to eliminate thousands of additional short-haul truck trips and the use of zero-emission container movement systems, NRDC officials said in a press release.
However, the SCIG will incorporate a number of "green" technologies, BNSF officials said in an emailed statement. The Class I has committed to spend more than $100 million to implement zero-emission electric cranes and ultra-low emitting hostler vehicles. In addition, the entrance to the facility has been redesigned away from neighborhoods, LNG-powered trucks would serve the facility, and truck travel would be limited to designated industrial routes and tracked by GPS, BNSF officials said.
"It is unfortunate that the city of Long Beach and other organizations have not supported the SCIG project given that it will improve air quality for residents living closest to the facility, as well as the millions of people living along the 710 freeway and throughout the region," they said.
The SCIG would actually reduce health risks for area residents, BNSF officials said, adding that if the facility is not built, air pollution and traffic in adjacent neighborhoods would worsen.
"After eight years of study, the in-depth environmental review of this project demonstrates that continuation of the existing trucking operations will not reduce pollution the way SCIG can," they said.
Meanwhile, Washington state regulators on June 7 approved a settlement agreement with BNSF that imposes a $55,000 penalty against the Class I for failing to repair defects at seven grade crossings in Skagit and Whatcom counties in a timely fashion.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) had filed a settlement agreement with BNSF on May 30. The railroad acknowledged that it failed to respond to repeated notices from the UTC since December 2012 about safety defects and did not repair crossings in a sufficiently timely manner, violating state law, commission officials said in a press release.
BNSF agreed to pay $55,000 while the remaining $50,000 of a $105,000 penalty the UTC assessed against the railroad in late February will be suspended for one year if certain conditions are met, they said.
To comply with the agreement involving crossings in Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties, BNSF must respond within 30 days to any UTC notice about routine crossing defects; respond within seven days to any commission notice about severe crossing defects; and promptly submit photos of completed repairs.
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