Setting the Facts Straight in the Pacific Northwest

Recently the Sierra Club and other environmental groups sent several coal companies and BNSF Railway notice that they intend to file a lawsuit over coal dust from railway cars in the Pacific Northwest. The threat of this frivolous lawsuit only harms our economy and jobs in the Northwest.

Yesterday, The Seattle Times ran an op-ed from Roger McClellan, past chairman of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and an expert on toxicology and human health-risk analysis, disputing these baseless claims. In the piece McClellan points out that the anecdotal evidence and the opinions of just a handful of people should not be used to sway the public when it comes the transportation of coal, but these decisions should be based on scientific evidence and facts.

Excerpt from the piece:

For starters, claiming that finding a piece of coal on the ground or in the water leads in a direct line to a health or environmental risk violates one of the basic tenets of toxicology and risk assessment — the mere presence of a substance does not indicate harm. There are other factors that need to be taken into account, the main one being exposure.

Just because a piece of coal is found in the water or coal dust is found near a rail track does not mean humans are exposed to it. Coal is not a substance that breaks down easily. Coal is relatively innocuous. Simply moving it by trains or trucks or barges does not equate to a risk to the environment or human health.

Coal continues to play an important role in meeting energy needs around the world, with steady improvements made in its transport and use. Coal has been transported through the Northwest by rail for decades and there has never been any evidence of harm associated with this rail transport.

As McClellan notes coal has been transported for decades through the Northwest by rail and there has never been any evidence associated moving the coal on the railways. Only when debate heated up over the coal export terminals has this become a hot topic for environmental groups. Thousands of jobs are on the line and the decision on the coal export terminals should be based on facts. We must work to reduce our export barriers for valuable exports like coal, not create new ones.


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