Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sierra Club Sues to Stop Stockton Rail Expansion

By Mark Edward Nero

Environmental organization the Sierra Club is suing to stop the Port of Stockton from moving forward with a $7.4 million rail expansion project that would double the port’s freight capacity. Weeks after the port’s May 4 approval of a contract, the Sierra Club has filed a lawsuit against the deal in San Joaquin County Superior Court in Central California. Earthjustice, a nonprofit law group in San Francisco, is representing the Sierra Club in the legal action.

The contract was awarded to engineering and construction company Industrial Railways to build 22,000 feet of new track - enough to allow the port to double its capacity from six bulk unit trains per week to 12.

The port says the increased capacity is needed because the port’s rail operations are so busy that they’re operating at 120 percent of capacity. The port says it saw about 97,000 rail cars in 2014, an average of more than 265 a day.

The lawsuit states that rail shipments of coal and emissions of coal dust from the open-topped freight cars could cause “impaired lung function, cardiovascular disease and developmental disorders.” The suit requests that a full state environmental review be conducted.

The port, however, has maintained that a full review isn’t required because the project consists primarily of replacing existing rail and California’s environmental rules provide exemptions for repair or maintenance of existing facilities.

The Sierra Club maintains that exemptions don’t apply in this case, since the project would add new rail lines and associated infrastructure, thereby expanding the port’s rail capacity and increasing the scale of the port’s operations.