In from the coal: Sierra Club files new dust suit
By Andy Giegerich
Sustainable Business Oregon editor
The Sierra Club suit charges that coal-carrying trains would emit dust into nearby bodies of water.
The debate over coal shipments through the Northwest amped up again Wednesday when the Sierra Club, in a lawsuit, charged several companies with violating the federal Clean Water Act.
The coal export station-backing Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports and other groups immediately fired back, calling the action a “nuisance lawsuit.”
The suit pits the Sierra Club against Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company and several coal businesses. The environmental activists say the companies are responsible “for emitting coal into waterways in several locations across Washington.
“BNSF and the other 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, in a release. “After years of railroad and coal companies playing the coal dust blame game, the last two months proved we can only expect more of the same from these companies.”
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle, where coal dust has been identified in and along multiple waterways.
There are three coal transfer station proposals still in play in the Northwest.
BNSF Railway is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. The Sierra Club said the railway is one of the country’s largest coal transporters in the U.S. It ships nearly 300 million tons of coal yearly, according to Sierra Club.
“Sierra Club’s lawsuit is meritless and nothing more than a publicity stunt meant to stop the permitting of multi-commodity export terminals in the Pacific Northwest,” the company said in a statement. “The Sierra Club adamantly opposes coal and will go to any lengths to eliminate it, even at the expense of all other Washington exports. BNSF has safely hauled coal in Washington for decades, and is committed to preventing coal dust from escaping while in transit. 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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