Strangling Coal Trains   Leave a comment

The ruling class is heavily invested in the environmental movement. Why? Because we all want clean air and pure water and the environmental movement has been extremely successful in making us think they’re on our side. Al Gore managed to get richer than he already was by boosting the environmental hysteria. Controlling the media is very useful. But it isn’t mostly about money … mostly. It’s more about power and control.

I’ve already discussed how the Clean Water Act is used by the administrative state to destroy businesses and deprive citizens of the use of their property. Well, they’re not just focused on wetlands.

There’s a railroad berm separating Horsethief Lake from the Columbia River near Lyle, Washington, just upriver from the Dalles, where you can pick up fistfuls of crumbling coal-black pebbles and dust.

Coal trains have been rumbling along that stretch of rail for decades and for most of that time, the trains were uncovered. This has not been the case in several years. BNSF Railway officials say the company has clamped down on coal dust from the trains in recent years, and question whether the debris came from current trains.

“BNSF does not believe coal or any commodity should be allowed to escape from our containers,” spokeswoman Courtney Wallace said

Coal is now loaded in a “loaf” and sprayed with sticky surfactants to prevent dust by 85%, but the prospect of mile-long open train cars has prompted five environmental groups to file their biggest legal challenge ever, warning BNSF Railway and six coal companies that they plan to sue them in 60 days in federal court for violating the Clean Water Act. If successful, the challenge would require coal trains to have water-pollution permits for the first time.

Horsethief Lake is important for tribes, with petroglyphs and historic fishing and village sites nearby. It’s also part of a Washington state park and the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

“It’s a travesty to see this much coal pollution here,” says Michael Lang, conservation director for Friends of the Columbia Gorge. “You could imagine 30 coal trains a day through here. It would be atrocious.”

Lang’s estimate is based on all five coal export terminals proposed in Oregon and Washington panning out — likely a long shot, industry officials say. One of the five, the Port of Coos Bay, just took its project off the boards Monday.

With U.S. demand flagging, coal terminal developers want to ramp up exports, carting in Montana and Wyoming coal on mile-plus, uncovered coal trains. The terminals could bring hundreds of millions in investment and hundreds of jobs.

The Clean Water Act specifically regulates “rolling stock,” and would apply if coal is going directly from trains into navigable waters, said Craig Johnston, a law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School. A permit could require steps to reduce releases, such as having the trains move more slowly or modifying train cars.

Krista Collard, a Sierra Club spokeswoman, said the legal challenge could have a big effect on railroads and coal companies.

“BNSF hauls coal all over the country,” she said. “If we’re successful with this, which we think we’re going to be, they’ll have to get (clean water) permits for coal all over the country if they’re traveling near waterways.”

There’s a legitimate concern here. Coal dust is an environmental contaminant and some private property owners along the railroad have claimed to find coal pebbles on their land hundreds of feet from the tracks. The railroad should be concerned about violating private property rights and I am not opposed to reasonable environmental regulation. I like clean air and water.

So what would a reasonable environmental standard look like. The EPA would produce reasonable, achievable standards based upon science that recognizes that “no-harm” is an unreasonable standard. For one thing, coal often is visible in the environment in its natural state.

Click Here to see the photo!

Companies would be expected to comply with the standard either by producing scientific monitoring to show they are or by using technology to bring them into compliance. The simple solution to this already exists in Alaska. Coal is transported by train in closed hoppers. The EPA’s other job would be to monitor to assure coal dust is not contaminating waterways and to report its findings to the companies so that the companies can takes steps to stop violations early on.

This “two-way street” cooperative approach protects the environment while allowing continued development and, best of all, it delegitimizes the Sierra Club and like agencies.

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