Today BNSF announced a tentative settlement in the long-running lawsuit over alleged coal dust emissions from railcars in Washington state. The tentative settlement reflects BNSF Railway’s long-term efforts to address coal dust and allows us to continue that practice without the distraction of a prolonged legal battle. Plaintiffs originally sued BNSF for $4.6 trillion, claiming that coal dust penetrated waterways across the Pacific Northwest. Our settlement of $1 million, which will fund supplemental environmental projects in Washington, reflects the truth that these sweeping allegations were simply unfounded. It is important to note the settlement reflects that BNSF denies any violations of the Clean Water Act and that BNSF has already implemented the best commercially available technology to address coal dust.
Judge Coughneour also acknowledged BNSF for its efforts to address coal dust. BNSF’s efforts over the last decade demonstrate our commitment to effective mitigation of in-transit coal dust losses and our coal-loading rule, which has been in place for a number of years, virtually eliminates issues with coal dust. We stand by our rule, which was developed following extensive research and field testing and reflects best practices.
It is important to remember that the Surface Transportation Board (STB), the federal agency with oversight over rail industry practices, upheld BNSF’s coal-loading rule. When we first established our rule, several coal shippers challenged the rule’s validity before the STB. The STB’s approval is consistent with the agency’s past ruling that BNSF could require reasonable measures be taken to reduce coal dust.
As part of the settlement agreement, BNSF will conduct a two-year study on physical covers for coal and petroleum coke railcars as there are none available today for commercial use. BNSF has always said that we are more than willing to apply different mitigation measures if they could be shown to meet the mitigation requirements contained in our coal dust rule.
Also, as outlined in the settlement, the plaintiffs have agreed not to bring forth similar litigation for five years. We will also work with the plaintiffs to remediate areas that are mutually agreed-upon as outlined in our consent decree.
BNSF will continue to apply best practices and move the needle when it comes to the safe transport of coal and all the commodities we haul.