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Rail News: BNSF Railway

BNSF faces coal dust lawsuit in Washington state, deems the federal court action 'meritless'


The Sierra Club and its partners recently filed a lawsuit against BNSF Railway Co. and several coal companies for alledgedly violating the Clean Water Act by emitting coal dust into waterways across Washington. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle.

In April, the Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities and Friends of the Columbia Gorge sent a 60-day notice to the defendants after collecting evidence of coal dust emissions in waterways at several locations, Sierra Club officials said in a press release. Spokane Riverkeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council also recently sent the defendants a letter regarding the violations, they said.

"BNSF and the coal shippers had two months to figure out a way to stop polluting our waterways and communities with coal dust but they chose to do nothing to find a solution," said Cesia Kearns, senior campaign representative of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Exports campaign.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, a co-founder of the Leadership Alliance Against Coal, has actively opposed plans to develop coal export terminals in Washington and Oregon, and is speaking out against the Clean Water Act violations, Sierra Club officials said. A "massive" rail traffic increase and longer trains are expected in the future if coal export terminals are built in the two states, they said.

"We are concerned about the effects of coal dust on our environment and on our waterways," said McGinn.

Using the most conservative BNSF figures, the four daily coal trains traveling through Washington combine to lose 240,000 pounds of coal dust per day during transit, Sierra Club officials said. Under the Clean Water Act, anyone discharging pollutants into U.S. waters must first obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, and BNSF does not have such a permit, they said.

The plaintiffs plan to file a similar suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington.

However, the filed lawsuit is "meritless" and "nothing more than a publicity stunt meant to stop the permitting of multi-commodity export terminals in the Pacific Northwest," BNSF officials said in an emailed statement. The Sierra Club adamantly opposes coal and will go to any lengths to eliminate it, even at the expense of other Washington exports, they said.

"BNSF has safely hauled coal in Washington for decades, and is committed to preventing coal dust from escaping while in transit," BNSF officials said. "In compliance with BNSF rules, exporters have committed to treat all coal shipments with methods effective at preventing coal dust from escaping during transit."

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