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Berkshire’s BNSF Violated Water Act, Sierra Club Says

Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s BNSF Railway Co. and five other coal shippers were sued by the Sierra Club over claims they discharge coal into Puget Sound and other waterways in violation of the U.S. Clean Water Act.

The Sierra Club said in the complaint filed in federal court in Seattle that coal chunks, coal dust and other byproducts of coal are emitted into water around the city and throughout Washington state.

BNSF, acquired by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire in 2010, crosses waterways while transporting coal in rail cars from the Powder River Basin through central and southern Washington to locations in Washington and sometimes into Canada, the Sierra Club and other groups said in the complaint filed yesterday.

“Sierra Club’s lawsuit is meritless and nothing more than a publicity stunt meant to stop the permitting of multicommodity export terminals in the Pacific Northwest,” Suann Lundsberg, a BNSF spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “BNSF has safely hauled coal in Washington for decades and is committed to preventing coal dust from escaping while in transit.”

The groups seek a court order prohibiting the company from using uncovered rail cars to carry coal and asked that it pay civil penalties and remediation costs and other damages.

The case is Sierra Club Inc. v. BNSF Railway Co., 13-cv-00967, U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington (Seattle).

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