Quantcast

Major Victory for Clean Water in Coal Export Battle

Energy

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington denied a motion to dismiss, allowing the Clean Water Act case to proceed against BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) for coal contamination of U.S. waterways. The Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper, Spokane Riverkeeper, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Friends of the Columbia Gorge filed the lawsuit on July 24, 2013, after finding substantial amounts of coal in and along several Washington waterways near BNSF rail lines. A similar case is also pending before the Western District of Washington in Seattle.

Photo credit: Paul Anderson

According to sworn testimony by BNSF Vice President of Transportation Gregory Fox, "BNSF estimates that up to 500 pounds of coal dust may be lost from the top of each car." The company currently sends four uncovered coal trains through the state every day, each with an average of 120 rail cars. Based on the company's figures, BNSF's trains lose an estimated 240,000 pounds of coal dust  along its route daily.
 
"This victory is the first step in holding BNSF accountable for their continual pollution of our waterways," said Cesia Kearns of the Sierra Club. "The court's decision to move the case forward is a step in the right direction to stop coal—and its toxic associates, lead, arsenic and mercury—from further poisoning our fish, our water and our families. We take these threats seriously, and after today’s court decision we hope BNSF finally will too."
 
The conservation groups point to BNSF's long history of violating the Clean Water Act, which plainly states that dumping of any kind into a U.S. waterway without what is known as a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, is a violation of federal law. Each violation of the Clean Water Act carries a fine of $37,500, and the plaintiffs assert that every rail car that loses coal is considered a unique violation—a hefty number when considering four trains a day, at 120 cars each travel through Washington.
 
"BNSF should focus on cleaning up its act instead of facing substantial fines for polluting America's rivers," said Morgan Wyenn, NRDC attorney. "We're committed to holding BNSF accountable for its violations of the Clean Water Act and protecting our waterways from toxic coal dust."
 
The implications of the case are monumental, as the Northwest has become ground zero in the fight to stop three proposed coal export terminals in Washington and Oregon. If built, Washington communities like Spokane would see an increase of 42 additional uncovered coal trains per day. Residents already experiencing the results of four uncovered daily coal trains say that they hope that this lawsuit will teach BNSF a lesson in corporate responsibility.
 
"BNSF's plans to increase its daily coal train traffic by more than ten times the current amount is a testament to how important it is that they swiftly and responsibly find a solution to their coal pollution problems before further damaging our precious waterways, like the Spokane River," said Bart Mihailovich, director of Spokane Riverkeeper. "If they want to continue to be in the risky business of shipping coal, they need to assume responsibility for all of the costs that go along with it. Washingtonians are fed up with subsidizing their dangerous operations with the health of our families and communities."
 
“We hope that BNSF will start taking their coal dust pollution problem seriously instead of looking for loopholes,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, an organization that works to reduce toxic pollution and protect salmon in the Columbia River. “It’s time to put an end to illegal pollution and work to restore our waterways.”
 
BNSF is the second largest coal shipper in the nation, shipping coal through 28 states and near countless bodies of water. The original Clean Water suit was filed against BNSF in Washington’s Western District on June 5, 3013.

"This milestone in our case sends a clear message to BNSF and the coal companies that communities along the rail line value clean water and corporate accountability over the profits of big business," said Crina Hoyer, executive director of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, P.C. of Eugene, OR, Andrea Rodgers Harris of Seattle, WA, Jessica Yarnall Loarie of the Sierra Club Law Program and David Pettit and Morgan Wyenn of NRDC.

Visit EcoWatch’s COAL and WATER pages for more related news on this topic.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg speaks during her protest action for more climate protection with a reporter. Steffen Trumpf / picture alliance / Getty Images

By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

It's been 30 years since Bill McKibben rang the warning bells about the threat of man-made climate change — first in a piece in The New Yorker, and then in his book, The End of Nature.

Read More Show Less
At the International Motor Show (IAA), climate protestors are calling for a change in transportation politics. © Kevin McElvaney / Greenpeace

Thousands of protestors marched in front of Frankfurt's International Motor Show (IAA) on Saturday to show their disgust with the auto industry's role in the climate crisis. The protestors demanded an end to combustion engines and a shift to more environmentally friendly emissions-free vehicles, as Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Setting and testing the line protections for Siemens SF6 gas insulated switchgear in 2007. Xaf / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Electricity from renewable sources is growing exponentially as the technology allows for cheaper and more efficient energy generation, but there is a dark side that has the industry polluting the most powerful greenhouse gas known to humanity, as the BBC reported.

Read More Show Less
Ella Olsson / Pexels

By Elizabeth Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Sweet and regular potatoes are both tuberous root vegetables, but they differ in appearance and taste.

They come from separate plant families, offer different nutrients, and affect your blood sugar differently.

Read More Show Less
Scientists in Saskatchewan found that consuming small amounts of neonicotinoids led white-crowned sparrows to lose significant amounts of weight and delay migration, threatening their ability to reproduce. Jen Goellnitz / Flickr

By Julia Conley

In addition to devastating effects on bee populations and the pollination needed to feed humans and other species, widely-used pesticides chemically related to nicotine may be deadly to birds and linked to some species' declines, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is set to unveil a package of measures on Friday, Sept. 20, to ensure that the country cuts its greenhouse gas emissions 55% by 2030, compared with the 1990 levels.

Read More Show Less
Assorted plastic bottles. mali maeder / Pexels

California ended its 2019 legislative session Saturday without passing two bills that would have led the nation in tackling plastic pollution, The Mercury News reported.

Read More Show Less
People carry children on a flooded street in Almoradi, Spain on Sept. 13. JOSE JORDAN / AFP / Getty Images

Record rainfall and flooding in southeastern Spain killed six people as of Saturday, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less