Congressman Mark DeSaulnier is urging the Federal Railroad Administration to enact regulations requiring that train cars carrying coal or petroleum coke products through Contra Costa County be covered.
In a letter to the administration’s acting chief last week (posted in full below), DeSaulnier echoed concerns from residents, city leaders and environmental advocacy groups over the dust emitted during the transport of such products through Bay Area cities and along their waterways, including in Richmond. Only the federal government has authority over the rails.
In May, Richmond City Council passed a two-part resolution (CC Times-May 21) opposing the transport of coal and petroleum coke aka petcoke, a byproduct of oil refining, along California waterways and through densely population areas. It also urged the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to adopt South Coast Air District rules that include requiring that trucks and train cars be covered. (KQED-June 22)
DeSaulnier describes covering coal cars as a simple, effective solution that benefits industry, citing 2009 testimony by a BNSF Railway official that 645 pounds of coal dust can escape from each train car during a 400-mile journey.
“Covering trains will prevent product loss for producers and shippers while simultaneously protecting the public from contamination caused by coal dust,” the congressman said.
Officials with Levin Richmond Terminal Corporation, the lone Richmond facility receiving petcoke and coal shipments, have described the coal loss figure cited by DeSaulnier and others as “discredited and outdated,” according to the Contra Costa Times.
While coal dust is known to contain arsenic, mercury and other contaminants, DeSaulnier said its public health impacts are not adequately known.
A Contra Costa Times editorial on July 26 supported DeSaulnier’s call for train car covers, but the newspaper’s board added it wanted their effectiveness evaluated.
In the KQED report, residents of Parchester Village complained how the dust “blows off the open mounds, covering the grass and coating their screen doors.” The coal heads through Parchester to drop off at the Levin-Richmond Terminal just south of Interstate 580, the news organization reported.
On July 20, three East Bay state senators, including Richmond representative Tony Thurmond, co-authored an opinion piece opposing plans to increase coal transports in Oakland. They point out that Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville and Albany also passed resolutions opposing the rail transport of coal, petroleum coke and oil.