The Idaho Conservation League has a hard-earned and well deserved reputation for being an environmental organization that deals with facts and objectively pursues issues involving the protection of the state’s invaluable assets such as clean water, clean air and wilderness.
When challenged a few years back by the late Governor Cecil Andrus to work constructively for a mining permit with a company willing to adopt virtually all of ICL’s requests to ensure the mine would not harm the environment, Rick Johnson, their executive director, took on the challenge and ICL ended up endorsing the proposed Formation Capital cobalt mine 50 miles northwest of Salmon.
Thus, it was disappointing to see an op-ed by ICL’s Matt Nykiel that was nothing less than an ignorant, fear-mongering hit piece aimed at stopping BNSF’s proposed second bridge parallel to the existing bridge across a corner of Lake Pend Oreille.
As is typical with these kind of hit pieces, they always leave out inconvenient facts that counter their distorted version of the truth.
The facts are:
Fact: Idahoans will have a voice and the lead federal and state agencies have a history of soliciting public comment on projects like this. For Nykiel to say Idahoans will not have a voice is simply ridiculous.
Fact: When trains cross the Lake standard operating procedure is to slow down considerably as they cross. For over 100 years trains have been crossing the lake and to the best of my knowledge not once has there been a derailment above the lake.
Fact: BNSF is the industry leader in the installation of Positive Train Control (PTC), a GPS system that automatically slows a train if it starts to exceed the preprogrammed directive.
Fact: BNSF inspects more tracks more often and more thoroughly than any other railroad in the nation. It is a pioneer in the use of drones for inspection. BNSF also accepts responsibility for being accountable to all its neighbors despite Nykiel’s claim to the contrary.
Fact: BNSF works closely with all first responders along its tracks, underwrites special training for dealing with any hazardous waste spill and provides grants for purchase of hazardous waste response items. Note Nykiel does not cite by name those he claims are critical of emergency response preparedness plans.
Fact: At a Lakes Commission meeting Nykiel claimed the response plan was deficient. His view is not shared by those who worked on the plan’s development with BNSF.
Fact: Nykiel’s use of pejorative terms like gamble, roulette and risk is a deliberate prejudging and puts ICL on record as opposing something before there has even been one hearing.
Fact: From an environmental standpoint moving goods and materials by rail is still far easier on the environment and safer than using trucks.
Fact: Nykiel should admit that he has ICL already on record because of the group’s belief that coal and Canadian oil exacerbate the global warming issue. Thus his answer is to stop trains from carrying coal or oil—a clear interference with interstate commerce. But when you’re a true believer the end justifies the means.
Unfortunately¸Nykiel is prematurely dealing away ICL’s ability to be the constructive player they can be when they want to be.
(Editor’s note: Carlson was the founding partner of the public affairs firm, the Gallatin Group. BNSF was a major client for many years. In addition, the piece is entirely the author’s view.)