Rail firm must pay Native American tribe $400m for illegal crude oil trains

Last Updated: June 22, 2024By

Swinomish Tribe Triumphs: $400 Million Settlement Secured

In a recent legal showdown, a federal judge ruled in favor of the Swinomish Tribe, ordering a hefty $400 million payout from one of North America’s largest freight railroad networks. This decision stems from the tribe’s claim that BNSF Railway intentionally trespassed on their land, repeatedly running large oil-carrying trains across their reservation against their wishes.


The Verdict Breakdown

Following a trial, Judge Robert Lasnik assessed BNSF’s gains from trespassing between 2012 and 2021, totaling $362 million. He tacked on an additional $32 million for post-tax profits like investment returns. Lasnik’s ruling emphasized the deliberate nature of BNSF’s actions, ensuring that the restitution was substantial but fair.


Tribe’s Standpoint

Steve Edwards, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community’s chairman, hailed the ruling as a vital deterrent against future encroachments. He emphasized that the significant settlement reflects the magnitude of BNSF’s wrongful gains from continuous trespassing.

Environmental and Safety Concerns

The tribe’s legal battle against BNSF stemmed from environmental worries and safety hazards posed by increased crude oil transport across their reservation. Instances of oil explosions elsewhere underscored the risks associated with such activities, particularly in ecologically sensitive areas like the Salish Sea and Padilla Bay.

Looking Ahead

While an appeal from BNSF is anticipated, the judgment marks a pivotal moment for tribal sovereignty and environmental protection. It serves as a stark reminder that profiting from unauthorized land use carries substantial consequences, setting a precedent for responsible corporate conduct in sensitive regions.

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