Coal Lawsuit Results In Little Change

The Sierra Club is claiming a victory for environmentalists opposed to Seward coal shipments. According to Meg Matthews, a Sierra Club spokesperson, the United States Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by Aurora Energy Services and the Alaska Railroad regarding a lower court decision on a clean water permit.

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Aurora and the railroad operate a coal loading facility in Seward for export purposes. The environmental group, Alaska Community Action On Toxics, has long complained that the coal export process is responsible for dumping coal and debris into Resurrection Bay.

Pam Miller, executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, says her organization and the Sierra Club brought legal action against the coal facility.

“This original action that we brought was really an attempt to stop the coal facility from dumping coal into Resurrection Bay and creating what we think is an environmental hazard but also a public health hazard, because the coal stockpiles there also emit large amounts of dust which are a public health threat. So we brought a case in an attempt to get them to put the proper controls in place that would prevent that from happening. ”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor of the plaintiffs last September, deciding that Aurora’s storm water discharge permit does not permit dumping coal into the Bay.

“They’re required to go through a Clean Water Act permitting system that goes out for public review, which is what we were really trying to achieve in the first place. ”

But Aurora spokesperson Lorali Simon says the outcome of the lawsuit, and the US Supreme Court’s decision not to hear an appeal, changes little. She says the coal facility has been inspected by the federal EPA and the state DEC many times over the years, and both agencies understand that there is incidental spill off the conveyor belt.

“So where we are now is,the facility has been going through permitting process through the state department of environmental conservation to secure an individual permit. So it’s important to keep in mind that there is no difference in environmental impact. ”

Simon says the coal loading facility has been operating under a compliance order with the state of Alaska, during which time the facility has undergone upgrades while the permit process is going on.

“And we are going through the individual permit process, rather than having a multi-sector general use permit that we have been operating under, so there is really no difference in how the terminal operates.”

Aurora and the railroad filed an appeal to the US Supreme court, Simon says, because the Ninth Circuit decision conflicts with a decision by the Sixth Circuit court in a similar case.