BNSF reaches coal dust settlement

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

BNSF Railway has agreed to investigate car covers for coal transportation, addressing a longtime complaint of local environmental and conservation groups.

Company officials announced this week that they had reached a settlement with several Washington environmental groups in the wake of a long-running lawsuit. While BNSF continues to deny any violation of environmental laws, it has committed to a two-year study of covers for coal and petroleum coke rail cars. It also agreed to put up $1 million in funding for environmental projects throughout Washington. The settlement postpones a trial between the company and environmental groups that began Nov. 7, according to the Associated Press.

A train loaded with coal navigates a bend in the track. Courtesy photo.

A train loaded with coal navigates a bend in the track. Courtesy photo.

The settlement puts the brakes on a 2013 lawsuit between BNSF and several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and National Resources Defense Council. The plaintiffs “originally sued BNSF for $4.6 trillion, claiming that coal dust penetrated waterways across the Pacific Northwest,” according to a company press release. In the terms of the settlement, the groups have agreed to hold off on similar litigation for the next five years.

Environmental groups involved in the lawsuit hailed the settlement as a win for their cause, but the settlement will impact waterways throughout the Pacific Northwest. Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper, for instance, has highlighted coal spillage and coal dust dispersal as a major hazard to Lake Pend Oreille. In 2014, executive director Shannon Williamson said that they removed more than 40 pounds of coal from the lake in the course of their water quality testing.

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