We can create jobs and save lives at the same time in Kansas

Yesterday, I blogged about the lawsuit NRDC filed that challenges the permit the United States Army Corps issued to Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSF) to construct and operate a massive rail yard near Gardner, Kansas.  The Kansas City Star highlighted the lawsuit in an article yesterday. Today, I’d like to focus on an important aspect of our lawsuit that has not received much attention in the press—that is, how BNSF’s project can be cleaner, and promote jobs and public health safeguards. 

The proposed facility near Gardner markets itself as a “shovel-ready” job site so it can apply for and receive funding from ARRA (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009), the federal stimulus bill. We certainly support new jobs coming to the Gardner region, but measures exist now to ensure that the Gardner rail yard operations are cleaner for people and the local environment and won’t cause as many pollution-related problems down the road.  Solutions include the use of locomotives, trucks, and equipment that meet the most stringent EPA emissions standards as well as the use of electric vehicles and equipment.  Idling of locomotives, trucks, and equipment can be reduced through idling control devices, idling restrictions, and truck electrification stops, all of which reduce air pollution and save fuel.  Fleet modernization programs can be adopted to progressively retire older, more polluting vehicles and equipment, and put newer, cleaner models into service.  Many of these measures have been successfully implemented by other similar facilities, including BNSF rail yards in California, and ports nationwide.

In fact, the Army Corps, in issuing permits for projects in the LA-region, has considered many of these measures in connection with port expansion projects.  It is curious why the federal government has chosen to look the other way with respect to projects in Kansas.  Further, NRDC was not alone in suggesting that the Corps and BNSF incorporate meaningful air pollution mitigation into the project.  The United States Environmental Protection Agency and Kansas Department of Health and Environment separately recommended the same.  Instead of heeding this advice, the Corps relied on promises from BNSF that the project would result in less pollution over time to respond to concerns that the project would jeopardize public health.  However, even if BNSF’s promises hold true (which is a point of contention in our lawsuit), doesn’t it still make sense to have a project that is protective of public health from the get-go?  The Corps should be fostering projects that provide long-term local jobs and minimize public health impacts, and demanding such projects from permit applicants.  That is what they have done in Los Angeles.  The only question is why they aren’t doing it in Kansas.