Last week, several environmental groups made good on their promise from earlier this spring to sue BNSF railroad and a handful of coal export companies for allegedly continuing to pollute a litany of Gorge waterways with coal they say is coming from improperly loaded railcars.
The civil suit, which names the Sierra Club as the lead plaintiff, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle on June 4 and is a follow-up to a 60-day notice of intent to sue that was sent out by the same environmental groups April 2.
It alleges that BNSF and five coal export companies have repeatedly violated the Federal Water Pollution Control Act for years (commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act) by allowing coal chunks and dust to escape uncovered railcars during transport and pollute the land and water along BNSF rail lines. Defendants are accused of not having obtained a federal permit allowing the discharges of coal pollutants into U.S. waters, which lawyers for the plaintiffs claim is a moot point since these types of discharges “are not permitted under federal law.”
The coal in question is primarily extracted from massive Powder River Basin mines in Wyoming and Montana and then shipped on BNSF railroads — one of which winds right along the Columbian River on the Washington side of the Gorge — before arriving at a British Columbian coal terminal in Vancouver for export to Asian markets. The commodity is also shipped to Centralia where it is used in a coal-fired power plant.…
An energy group says a recently released report overstated issues of water use by the oil and gas industry. The Western Organization of Resource Councils released the report last month and said regulators need to consider the quantity of water the energy industry uses, in addition to the quality.
But Research director for Energy in Depth, Simon Lomax, says the amount of water used for oil and gas development is .06-percent of total water use for Wyoming and the other three states studied, there are sufficient regulations in place, and that natural gas actually puts water into the hydrological cycle.
“For some reason they decided to ignore the amount of water that’s actually added to the hydrological cycle when you burn natural gas. It works out that for every billion cubic feet of natural gas that is burned you get about 11 million gallons of water added to the natural cycle in the form of water vapor,” says Lomax.
Powder River Basin Resource Council member Bob LeResche says, “water vapor going into the atmosphere does not replace it in a usable form for thousands of years, and even then, not locally.”