Sierra Club moves to file coal action, opponents dub it a 'nuisance suit'
By Andy Giegerich
Sustainable Business Oregon editor
The Sierra Club action would result in a lawsuit within 60 days for alleged Clean Water Act violations.
The Sierra Club has notified Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway that it intends to sue the company and several coal businesses for alleged federal Clean Water Act violations.
Such local groups as the Columbia Riverkeeper and Friends of the Columbia Gorge are also participating in the action, which the railroad called a “nuisance suit.”
The notice relates to four daily coal trains that, according to the Sierra Club, travel through Washington to Canada and lose 120 tons of coal dust per day.
A Sierra Club release on the action said Burlington Northern hauls an average of 480 open-top coal-carrying rail cars a day through Washington. The group maintains that if new coal export terminals are built, operators could add more cars to the trains.
Michael Lang, conservation director for Friends of the Columbia Gorge, said Burlington’s own reports suggest each coal train dumps up to 10,000 pounds of coal into the Columbia River Gorge.
“This is unacceptable and illegal,” Land said in a release. “If coal export proposals are approved, coal pollution from 30 full coal trains per day would destroy everything Congress and the state of Oregon and Washington have worked so hard to protect in the Columbia River Gorge.”
Burlington Northern Santa Fe, in a statement issued by the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, responded that the company is committed to preventing coal dust from escaping while in transit. The company called on the Sierra Club and other parties to the suit to help better control the granules that scatter from trains.
“BNSF takes its commitment to environmental responsibility very seriously, and we are disappointed in the actions taken today by groups who oppose coal exports,” company officials wrote. “This is nothing more than the threat of a nuisance lawsuit without merit, that is part of an ongoing campaign designed to create headlines to influence the review process for proposed export terminals.”
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