The railroad industry has filed a lawsuit against California’s new environmental regulations, arguing that they would lead to the premature retirement of approximately 25,000 diesel-powered locomotives across the country.
The industry claims that these regulations are being implemented before zero-emission locomotives are ready to replace their fossil fuel-powered counterparts.
In recent years, California has become known for its aggressive approach to combating climate change and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
The state has introduced some of the world’s strictest environmental regulations, including plans to prohibit the sale of new gas-powered vehicles, lawn equipment, and trucks by the mid-2030s.
While these rules aim to gradually phase out combustion engines by limiting the sale of new vehicles, the regulations affecting railroads are more stringent. Starting in 2030, locomotives older than 23 years would be banned, and railroads would be required to set aside over $1 billion annually from this fall specifically for the purchase of zero-emission locomotives and related equipment.
Given the crucial role of California’s ports and the interconnected nature of rail transportation, the state’s mandate would have significant implications throughout the country.
Trade groups from the railroad industry have filed a lawsuit in federal court, claiming that the new locomotive pollution regulations in California are not feasible due to insufficient testing of the technology for zero-emission locomotives. The regulations are expected to cover the delivery of over 30 million freight carloads annually in the US.
The lawsuit argues that only the federal government can regulate railroads since it’s an interconnected industry that operates across state lines, with over 500 companies sharing the 180,000 miles (289,682 kilometers) of track. The lawsuit seeks a court ruling that the California Air Resources Board lacks the authority to issue the new rules.
“While the urgency to act is real and unquestionable, CARB (the California Air Resources Board) uses unreasonable, flawed assumptions to support a rule that will not result in emissions reductions,” said Ian Jefferies, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, an industry trade association that filed the lawsuit along with the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.
“Railroads are working toward reliable, efficient zero-emissions technologies; however, they cannot simply be willed into immediate existence by policymakers.”
The railroad groups’ lawsuit highlights their concern regarding regulators’ alleged “lack of experience with and understanding of the railroad industry.” Another argument against the California rule is that transporting goods via railways emits fewer planet-warming emissions compared to trucking.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, rail only accounts for 2% of greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector, which contributed the largest share of emissions in 2021. CARB spokesperson Lys Mendez stated that the board has not yet reviewed the lawsuit and therefore cannot provide any comments.
The recent developments regarding the emissions problems from locomotives have brought to light a pressing issue that demands immediate attention from regulators. These authorities emphasize the urgency to act swiftly, given the extensive magnitude of the problem at hand.
In particular, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has underscored the importance of implementing rules aimed at significantly reducing pollution caused by nitrogen oxides.
Nitrogen oxides not only contribute to the formation of smog, but they also pose a serious health risk due to their ability to penetrate deep into a person’s lungs.
These tiny pollutants have been directly linked to the development of cancer, making it imperative to address this issue promptly. The CARB estimates that the implementation of these rules will not only alleviate pollution but also yield substantial benefits, including a projected $32 billion in healthcare cost savings and the prevention of 3,200 premature deaths.
Such numbers underscore the significance of these regulations and the potential positive impact they can have on society.
However, these measures are not without their detractors. Adrian Martinez, a lawyer representing the environmental nonprofit organization Earthjustice, has expressed grave concern over the fate of the California rule.
He characterizes the matter as one of “life and death,” emphasizing the dire consequences that could arise if adequate action is not taken. Martinez also criticizes the rail industry for what he perceives as a disregard for human life in their continued use of diesel fuel, which he characterizes as “really dirty.”
The gravity of Martinez’s remarks highlights the importance of not only implementing these regulations but also ensuring their effective enforcement. The fact that legal action has been taken brings attention to the complexities of combating emissions problems, particularly when industries may prioritize profit over public health.
It underscores the need for a comprehensive approach that holds all relevant parties accountable for their emissions and ensures the adoption of cleaner and more sustainable alternatives.
In conclusion, the urgency surrounding the emissions problems from locomotives is unquestionable. The proposed rules by CARB seek to combat pollution caused by nitrogen oxides, which have severe health implications.
The potential benefits of these regulations, including the significant reduction in healthcare costs and the prevention of premature deaths, cannot be understated. However, the opposition faced by these measures serves as a reminder of the challenges in addressing emission issues. It is imperative for regulators, stakeholders, and society as a whole to rally behind these regulations and work towards a cleaner and healthier future for all.
The “reckless disregard” that has been attributed to the rail industry must be replaced with a concerted effort to prioritize human lives and protect the environment.
Only through collaborative action and strong enforcement can we hope to address this matter effectively and secure a better future for generations to come.
Alicia Aguayo, spokesperson for People’s Collective for Environmental Justice, is not surprised by the lawsuit, due to the health risks diesel pollution from locomotives poses to residents. Aguayo spent more than two decades near a BNSF railyard in San Bernardino and is concerned about the harmful effects of diesel pollution on communities, especially those with asthma patients.
California regulators acted first before the EPA updated its own locomotive pollution rules last fall, potentially making California’s new regulation also applicable to other states.
California suffers from some of the worst air quality in the US, especially in larger cities like Los Angeles and Long Beach, due to transportation emissions.
These regulations would have the most significant impact on Union Pacific, BNSF, and short-line railroads that operate in California.
The major freight railroads are already piloting battery-powered locomotives, and Wabtec highlighted that they are at least a couple of years away from having battery-powered locomotives ready for widespread testing for long-distance freight haulage.
Furthermore, the other technologies available may face challenges associated with fuel availability and the cost of setting up entirely new infrastructure.
Railroads prefer not to replace their existing locomotives but rather upgrade them to extend their useful life and reduce their carbon emissions.
However, such upgrades do not reduce particulate matter and nitrous oxide emissions, which are associated with cancer risks and health problems.