Sierra Club sues BNSF over coal dust from trains



Updated: June 5, 2013, 4:18 PM


Local angle

More than a year ago, companies were proposing as many as six coal-export terminals in Washington and Oregon. Since then, the list has dropped to three. Last month, energy company Kinder Morgan became the latest corporation to jettison its plans. It cited logistical challenges that hampered its proposed coal-export facility downstream from Portland along the Columbia River.

That decision further whittled the initial list of six planned facilities to three: one proposed near Bellingham, another in Longview and one in Boardman, Ore.

SEATTLE — The Sierra Club is suing BNSF Railway in federal court in Seattle over coal dust that blows off trains into Washington rivers and Puget Sound.

The suit filed Wednesday says the railway sends an average of four trains or 480 open-top rail cars through the state each day carrying coal from mines in Wyoming and Montana to Canada or the only remaining coal-fired power plant in Washington at Centralia.

The number could increase significantly under pending proposals for three coal export terminals in Washington and Oregon.

The suit follows a notice of violations sent to the railroad in April from the Sierra Club, Puget SoundKeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities and Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said in a statement: "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 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."