Environmental groups to sue coal companies over coal spilled en route to ports

Apr 2, 2013

Credit Department of Energy EIA

The Sierra Club says it plans to sue railroad and coal companies in 60 days for spilled coal in the Northwest, and sent out letters of intent to the parties. The environmental group has been testing land and water around railroad tracks, and claims to have found pieces of coal and coal dust that, they say, blows off the train cars from mines in Wyoming and Montana.

During a teleconference, community members and representatives from environmental groups said the problem will only get worse if more ports are built and coal exports increase – something coal producers are pushing for.

Vineyard owner Don McDermott was one of the community members who expressed his concerns during the teleconference. “There’s chemical trespass on my property,” said McDermott.  “The coal dust and the coal are blowing, with the 40 miles-an-hour winds, directly onto my property. There are several other agricultural people that have similar situation to me, and we’re all concerned that coal dust could possibly get on our grapes. And if we have to wash our grapes before we sell them, our grapes will not command the same amount of price.”

Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper, Brett VandenHeuvel, says railroad and coal companies do not have permits to dump coal.    

“Coal is toxic,” VandenHeuvel said.  “It contains mercury, and arsenic, and lead, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that are toxic to fish, and many other toxic pollutants. And so we’re taking this action today to stop the spilling of illegal pollution into our rivers. The Columbia River is the lifeblood of our region and the coal companies are poisoning our river.” 

Using BNSF Railway’s figures, the Sierra Club estimates that currently an average of 30 tons of coal is lost per train trip. 

The notice of intent was sent to BNSF Railway Company, Cloud Peak Energy, Peabody Energy, Global Mining Holding Company, Arch Coal, First Energy Corporation, Ambre Energy, and TransAlta USA.