Railroads file suit over California’s new locomotive emissions regulations

Railroads file suit over California’s new locomotive emissions regulations

A Union Pacific merchandise train ascends California’s Cajon Pass on the Palmdale Cutoff in September 2021. Bill Stephens

WASHINGTON — Railroads have filed suit against the California Air Resources Board’s new diesel locomotive emissions standards, arguing that the state body lacks the authority to implement the In-Use Locomotive rule.

The Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, on behalf of their members, filed suit against the California Air Resources Board in the Eastern District of California over the In-Use Locomotive regulation that was approved on April 27. The groups have asked the court to delay implementation of the new rule until legal challenges are resolved.

AAR and ASLRRA say the CARB rule would limit the useful life of the nation’s 25,000-unti locomotive fleet and mandate their premature replacement with zero-emissions locomotives.

Zero-emissions locomotives have not been sufficiently tested in prototype or operational service and are not commercially available, the lobbying groups said.

“Movement of goods and movement toward greater sustainability is not an either-or proposition; for rail, these are mutually inclusive,” AAR CEO Ian Jefferies said in a statement today. “All American families want and deserve clean air and a competitive economy that can support quality jobs. Rail supports both and has an unwavering commitment to continue to go even further in advancing sustainability.”

California has long been the proving ground where the railroads and CARB have partnered and worked collaboratively to drive significant reductions in emissions. Railroads’ partnerships with CARB in past years have successfully reduced emissions from line haul and yard operations across the state. Initiatives such as zero-emission cranes, yard service vehicles and other technology are at work in yards across California and the nation as anti-idling systems, fuel management systems and the use of renewable fuels are simultaneously reducing locomotive emissions.

Although pilot programs are in the works to test battery-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell locomotives, a clear technological path has not yet emerged and will require additional testing and development, the group said.

“While the urgency to act is real and unquestionable, CARB uses unreasonable, flawed assumptions to support a rule that will not result in emissions reductions,” Jefferies said. “Railroads have urged CARB to take the proven path of collaboration and build on our shared successes, but those arguments were rejected out of hand. Railroads are working toward reliable, efficient zero-emissions technologies; however, they cannot simply be willed into immediate existence by policymakers.”

Throughout the rulemaking process, railroads, suppliers and other stakeholders made clear the entire industry is working to develop and test zero-emissions technologies and the supporting infrastructure capable of powering the complex, interconnected rail industry. Although significant progress has been made in recent years, these same parties argued before CARB that zero-emissions locomotives are not yet commercially viable. Despite these arguments and the unavailability of qualifying zero-emission locomotives, the CARB rule would begin charging railroads that operate locomotives within the state billions of dollars annually starting when the rule is expected to go into effect in October.

“Short line railroads operating in California provide critical first- and last-mile service on lower density branch lines, keeping smaller shippers in rural areas and small towns connected to the national freight rail network,” ASLRRA President Chuck Baker said in a statement. “While the spirit behind this regulation is consistent with railroad’s environmental commitment, the rule itself is unworkable and infeasible for short lines – its implementation would literally bankrupt some small business short lines. And the rulemaking does not acknowledge the impact of the elimination of some short line rail service to Californians. For shippers, it eliminates an efficient means to market and threatens the competitiveness of California’s products. For the public, it means the rising cost of products and a modal shift to trucks – a far less safe means of transportation resulting in more fatalities and injuries, more congestion on California’s roads, more burden on the California taxpayer to pay for road damage, and more micro plastics from shredded truck tires in the environment and water supply.”

In the lawsuit, AAR and ASLRRA argue that CARB lacks the legal authority to promulgate the In-Use Locomotive Rule. Due to the interconnected nature of rail operations and the need for uniform regulatory policies, Congress, the courts, federal regulators, and even CARB itself have long acknowledged that the federal government has exclusive authority to regulate rail operations.

As a part of the suit, AAR and ASLRRA filed to preliminarily enjoin implementation and enforcement of the rule while the district court considers the case.

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