BNSF defended itself in federal court Monday against claims that its coal-filled rail cars are polluting Washington waterways.

The first witness in Monday's hearing was photographer Paul Anderson. Many of Anderson's photographs were shown to the judge, hoping to prove coal is regularly leaving rail cars and entering water in places like Ballard or the Columbia River.

"I said in testimony that we can't live with thousands of paper cuts. It will be bad," Anderson said.

BNSF's attorney questioned Anderson's expertise. As a photographer, he has no specialized training in geology or coal specifically. The rail company says since he's no expert, his testimony about coal is questionable.

"I think she's doing her job but that's a ridiculous statement,” Anderson said. “It doesn't take a rocket science to know coal is coal and bologna is bologna."

Environmental lawyers started working on the case several years ago. They say they find coal on shorelines all over Washington.

Activists argue the coal is poisoning important habitat for fish like threatened salmon.

BNSF told KING 5 they are “confident” in their arguments at trial.

"We developed a coal loading rule that virtually eliminates any issues with coal dust,” Courtney Wallace, a BNSF spokesperson, wrote in an email.

That rule includes loading coal in a “bread loaf” shape so it is resistant to wind and using a topping agent similar to glue.

Chris Wilke and Puget Soundkeeper Alliance want BNSF to use covered rail cars.

"I think they're clinging to a fragile argument that they're doing everything they can to stop this discharge, but the point is, there is coal getting into the water, and they're not employing the technologies that are available which is covering the cars," Wilke said.

The trial is expected to last a week.