The Sierra Club said Nov. 15 that a coalition of environmental organizations and the BNSF Railway, one of two major rail haulers of Powder River Basin coal, have reached an agreement in principle that will ensure that BNSF starts to clean up and prevent dust pollution from its coal trains.
The agreement, which is expected to be finalized as a court order in the next 60 days, will put on hold an ongoing trial until a final agreement is reached, and includes several requirements that will protect the health of Washington’s waterways:
- A two-year study, funded by BNSF, into methods for covering coal trains;
- $1 million for conservation or restoration projects in Washington state;
- Clean up and removal of coal and/or petcoke at specific areas near water bodies most affected by BNSF coal trains.
The club added that the plaintiffs have put on testimony over the course of the week-long trial that included multiple eyewitnesses to coal pollution and expert testimony that a million or more coal particles per second come off of each rail car. A coalition of environmental groups — including the Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper, Natural Resources Defense Council and Friends of the Columbia Gorge — sued BNSF in 2013 under the federal Clean Water Act.
This legal fight was in part prompted by plans to haul PRB coal to proposed export terminals in Washington. The only existing coal-fired power plant in Washington is TransAlta’s Centralia plant, which is due to close next decade in two steps due to greenhouse gas reduction priorities. Centralia takes PRB coal.
“This is a win for Washington state residents who live, work, and play in the state’s waterways,” said Cesia Kearns, Deputy Regional Campaign Director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “For decades, coal from BNSF trains has been polluting our rivers, lakes, and seas. This agreement recognizes that and holds BNSF accountable for its impact on our communities’ health and environment.”
Said Crina Hoyer, Executive Director of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities: “The coal car study is the first step toward seeing toxic cargo, like coal, sealed and covered for transport. This is a win for clean water and a win for our communities.”