Cleaning Up the Coal Pollution from BNSF Trains

The wheels of justice often turn very slowly. Three years after filing suit, NRDC, along with several other environmental groups, finally reached agreement on the framework for a settlement to clean up the coal pollution along waterways in the State of Washington. 

You may remember that we—along with several other environmental groups—filed a lawsuit against BNSF Railway back in 2013 over the coal dust blowing off of open rail cars and polluting waterways all throughout the State of Washington. In the three years since then, the environmental groups—Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper, Spokane Riverkeeper, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, and NRDC—worked closely to gather evidence and get ready for the trial, which began November 7. An expert testified that every uncovered, open-topped coal car in each coal train emits coal dust throughout its entire trip from the Powder River Basin throughout the state, including the Columbia River to the coast. 

Yesterday, the trial came to a screeching halt when environmental groups and BNSF finally reached “an agreement in principle” for the framework of a settlement, which is expected to be finalized as a court order in the next 60 days. The settlement would include several key provisions that are big steps to protecting the health of the waterways throughout the state:

  1. BNSF is committing to a two-year study into methods to cover the coal trains. 
  2. BNSF is contributing $1 million for conservation or restoration projects in Washington. 
  3. BNSF is committing to clean up and remove coal at specific areas near water bodies most affected by BNSF coal trains.

We are proud to be part of this fantastic coalition of environmental groups and the legal team that worked tirelessly over the past three years to bring us to this moment. This is an exciting victory for the rivers, lakes, and streams in Washington and the flourishing communities that use and enjoy them. Coal certainly doesn’t belong in these precious waterways, and we look forward to the finalization of this landmark agreement.

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