Transportation Regulation

G&T Asks Coal Dust Case Review

By Steven Johnson | ECT Staff Writer Published: January 15th, 2014

Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. has asked federal regulators to reverse a ruling that could lead to tens of millions of dollars in additional charges for shippers who depend on coal.

Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. wants federal regulators to change their ruling in a coal dust case. (Photo By: iStockphoto)

Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. wants federal regulators to change their ruling in a coal dust case. (Photo By: iStockphoto)

AECC said the Surface Transportation Board ruled improperly Dec. 17, when it upheld a BNSF Railway Co. tariff that forces shippers to cover the cost of cleaning up coal dust emissions from railcars.

The Little Rock-based G&T asked the board to reconsider the decision, saying it ignored important evidence about hauling coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and contradicted its previous rulings.

“Instead, the board gives the railroads carte blanche to impose hundreds of millions of dollars of additional costs on coal shippers and their customers, simply to cover up the railroads’ own responsibility for causing coal dust to foul the PRB trackage,” AECC stated in a Jan. 6 filing.

The stakes in the case are high, not just for AECC, but for all electric cooperatives and utilities that transport coal to their power plants.

As approved by the STB, the BNSF tariff could impose costs of as much as $300 million a year on coal shippers with no measurable benefits in return, according to the AECC filing by lawyer Eric Von Salzen and transportation consultant Michael A. Nelson.

The tariff requires shippers to load cars in a “breadloaf” fashion and apply a sticky chemical topper treatment to prevent dust from piling up on tracks.

That amounts to double-dipping, according to AECC, since shippers already pay for maintenance as part of their rate contracts with railroads.

Additionally, the G&T filing cited evidence that suggests railroads actually cause most coal dust spills by allowing slack action between cars and condoning other practices.

And it said the STB gave undue weight to unsubstantiated claims that coal dust represents a special threat to track stability.

“If the board is going to require shippers and their customers to pay up to $300 million/year for toppers, the board needs to offer more than what has turned out to be the bogeyman of infrastructure instability as a justification,” AECC said.

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