Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cesia Kearns,  Sierra Club, (503) 238-0442 Ext. 306,
Chris Wilke, Puget Soundkeeper, 206.297.7002,,

Court gives lawsuit green light to proceed

SEATTLE, WA — This morning the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington denied a motion to dismiss in its entirety, allowing a Clean Water Act lawsuit against BNSF Railway Company to proceed for coal dust contamination of U.S. waterways. The conservation groups issued the following statement:

“This win allows us to move forward in holding BNSF accountable for the pollution of our lakes, streams and waterways caused by their coal and petcoke trains,” said Cesia Kearns of the Sierra Club. “The pollutants coming from these trains contaminate our fish, our water, and our families with toxic compounds like lead and mercury, in violation of the Clean Water Act. With today’s ruling, we are one step closer to securing accountability and protecting clean water for families across the Pacific Northwest.”

“We continue to find fresh deposits of coal in our waterways along the rail line,” said Chris Wilke, Executive Director of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. “Today’s decision affirms the importance of keeping our waterways clean and safe for Washington’s wildlife and our families.”


Today’s Western District Court decision followed a similar decision in January by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, which also ruled against BNSF and denied a motion to dismiss. With these rulings, the case is now cleared to proceed.

According to sworn testimony by BNSF Vice President of Transportation, Gregory Fox, “BNSF estimates that up to 500 pounds of coal dust may be lost from the top of each car.” The company currently sends four uncovered coal trains through the state every day, each with an average of 120 rail cars. Based on the company’s figures, BNSF’s trains lose an estimated 240,000 pounds of coal dust along its route daily.

The lawsuit was filed July 24, 2013, by the Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper, Spokane Riverkeeper, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Friends of the Columbia Gorge, after these groups found substantial amounts of coal in and along several Washington waterways near BNSF rail lines.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, P.C. of Eugene, OR, Jessica Yarnall Loarie of the Sierra Club Law Program, Andrea Rodgers Harris of Seattle, WA, and David Pettit and Morgan Wyenn of the Natural Resources Defense Council.