Friday, January 6, 2012

BNSF Settles Puget Sound Water Lawsuit

BNSF Railway has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit alleging violations of federal clean water laws at its Balmer Yard facility in Seattle.

In December, a proposed consent decree was filed in federal court stating that BNSF would pay $1.5 million to a third-party environmental group, with the money going to projects that improve Puget Sound water quality.

BNSF, which does not admit guilt in the decree, also has agreed to pay $1 million to cover the plaintiff’s attorney fees and other litigation costs in addition to the $1.5 million.

BNSF is to pay the $1.5 million to Oakland, California-based Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, which would then award grants to local water quality improvement projects.

According to the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, which filed the suit in July 2009, the settlement is one of the largest ever involving citizen actions involving storm water pollution under the federal Clean Water Act.

The lawsuit alleged the railroad violated federal laws with storm water discharges at the 80-acre Balmer Yard facility. Judge John Coughenour found that BNSF had committed 19 pollutant discharge violations.

The decree notes that since the violations, BNSF has implemented numerous stormwater pollution control measures at Balmer Yard, including containing spills in the train fueling area, and outfitting above-ground storage tanks with automatic shutoff valves and overfill protectors.

The agreement now goes on to the Environmental Protection Agency and US Justice Department, which have 45 days to review it before it becomes legal and binding.