Arkansas Electric Cooperative on Jan. 6 petitioned the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to reconsider its decision dated Dec. 17, 2013, on the long-contentious issue of coal dust tariffs for coal moving via train out of the Powder River Basin (PRB).
The cooperative said the decision is contrary to the evidence in the record (including evidence from the railroads themselves), is unsupported by substantial evidence, and is inconsistent with the board’s own prior rulings in this matter.
“In the Decision the Board pays solicitous attention to the concerns of the railroads, but fails to give even-handed consideration to the burdens and harms BNSF‘s tariff imposes on shippers and on the public interest,” it said. “The Board shows itself unwilling to hold railroads accountable for their actions that create coal dust releases, and their demonstrated ability to control the preponderance of such releases. Instead, the Board gives the railroads carte blanche to impose hundreds of millions of dollars of additional costs on coal shippers and their customers, simply to cover up the railroads’ own responsibility for causing coal dust to foul the PRB trackage. “
In a prior case called “Coal Dust I,” the board granted Arkansas Electric’s petition and found that BNSF’s coal dust tariff was unreasonable and invalid, but the board invited BNSF and its shippers to work together to develop a new tariff. However, in the Dec. 17 decision the board approved a new BNSF tariff that imposes costs of as much as $300m per year on coal shippers, in return for no quantifiable benefits whatsoever, the cooperative argued.
BNSF Railway and the Union Pacific (UP), the two railroads that serve the PRB, have been earning returns well in excess of the railroad cost of capital at least since 2011, Arkansas Electric said. “The tariff inappropriately enhances their exercise of market power at the expense of coal shippers and the public,” it added. “Therefore, the Board should reconsider its Decision and find that the BNSF tariff is unreasonable and invalid.”