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Sierra Club v. BNSF Railway

ELR Citation: 44 ELR 20051
Nos. C13-0967-JCC, (W.D. Wash., 03/12/2014) (Coughenour, J.)

A district court held that environmental groups may go forward with their CWA lawsuit against a rail carrier for allowing coal dust from open-top rail cars to be released into U.S. waterways. At issue was whether coal dust from rail cars that falls onto land, rather than directly into the waters, offends the CWA. The carrier sought to dismiss the case, arguing that the groups failed to provide sufficient notice of their intent to sue as required by the CWA. It also argued that the notice letters failed to specify the location of every discharge and provided only a range of dates—from April 2008 to present—rather than the dates of each discharge. The notices, however, provided lengthy descriptions of the nature of the violations, the specific pollutants allegedly discharged, and ways to determine when and where the discharges occurred. Given the specificity with which the groups described the carrier's alleged violations, the court was satisfied that the carrier was provided with sufficient information to figure out the nature of the violations for which it is being sued. The carrier also argued that the groups lacked Article III standing. It argued that the groups need to establish standing for each claimed discharge at each location of each named water from April 2008 to the present. The carrier, however, "misstates the law and asks too much" of the groups at this early stage of the litigation.