Environmental groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. district court against BNSF Railway and several coal companies. The groups say that the rail and coal companies are violating the Clean Water Act by allowing coal to escape from trains that travel through the region.
Coal has been found along rail lines in the Columbia River Gorge and Puget Sound. That has environmental groups concerned that if any of the three proposed coal export terminals are built in the Northwest there could be more coal discharged into waterways.
The Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper and others say that coal should be regulated as a point source pollutant under the Clean Water Act. That would put coal trains in the same regulatory category as wastewater treatment plants and large livestock farms.
Charles Tebbutt is the lawyer representing the groups.
"The main issue here is that every train that goes through today, yesterday, tomorrow, has discharged and will continue to discharge coal and each and every discharge is illegal," Tebbutt says.
BNSF Railway declined to be interviewed for the story but emailed a statement calling the lawsuit “meritless and nothing more than a publicity stunt meant to stop the permitting of export terminals in the Pacific Northwest.”
BNSF Railway has publicly stated that more than 600 pounds of coal can escape from each train car. There are usually more than 100 cars per coal train.
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