California sets first national rule on train emissions

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — The California Air Resources Board on Thursday approved the nation’s first ambitious rule limiting rail pollution.

The objective is to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from locomotives. The standards would also reduce a group of chemicals that contribute to smog formation. They could improve air quality for people living near rail yards and ports.

The standards would need approval from the Biden administration to move forward. They follow rules approved by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce heavy truck emissions. The locomotive rule is part of the state’s plan to establish itself as a global leader in the fight against climate change.

“It’s time to kick off the next stage of transformation with the trains in this settlement,” said board member Davina Hurt.

Locomotives pull railcars loaded with food, lumber, oil and other goods through rail yards near neighborhoods in Oakland, Commerce, San Bernardino and other California cities.

They run on diesel, a more powerful fuel than gasoline, and burning all that diesel produces harmful pollution for people living nearby, as well as greenhouse gases.

The rule will ban locomotive engines over 23 years old by 2030 and increase the use of zero-emission technology to haul freight from ports and into marshalling yards. It would also prohibit state locomotives from idling for more than 30 minutes if equipped with an automatic stop.

Other states can sign up to try to adopt California’s rule if they get the Biden administration’s okay.

The rule is the most ambitious of its kind in the country.

“This is going to be groundbreaking and it will solve the diesel crisis that has plagued communities near rail yards for decades,” said Yasmine Agelidis, a lawyer with environmental association Earthjustice ahead of the agency’s vote.

Diesel exhaust gases are hazardous to health. According to California regulators, diesel emissions are responsible for about 70% of Californians’ cancer risk from toxic air pollution. The rule would limit emissions from a class of engines that release more than 640 tonnes of tiny pollutants each year that can penetrate deep into a person’s lungs and worsen asthma, and release nearly 30,000 tonnes of carbon-forming emissions. smog called nitrogen oxides. The rule would also significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from locomotives, by an amount comparable to removing all heavy trucks from the state by 2030.

It’s important to tackle emissions from a sector that often burdens low-income residents and communities of color, and which plans to expand passenger rail, said Air Resources Board Chair Liane M Randolph.

Railroads can participate in state-run incentive programs to ease the cost of transitioning to zero-emission locomotives, the agency said.

California has already decided to significantly reduce emissions in other areas. The state has approved a transition to zero-emission cars and a roadmap to achieve carbon neutrality, meaning it would remove as many carbon emissions as it releases, by 2045.

For activists and residents who have lived in areas affected by heavy rail pollution, the fight for cleaner trains has been going on for decades.

Jan Victor Andasan, an activist with East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, grew up in West Long Beach and now organizes residents there. It’s a neighborhood near the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach that is “surrounded by pollution” from trains, trucks and industry.

“We support rail, but we support rail if they do their best to mitigate their emissions,” Andasan said.

Residents told stories on Thursday of children who live near train tracks having to share inhalers to relieve asthma symptoms and families taking extreme measures to rid their homes of diesel fumes.

Some activists would like California to go further, such as limiting locomotive idling to 15 minutes. They also fear that the increased demand for online shopping will lead to increased rail traffic that is straining communities.

But some say it’s too early to implement locomotive standards. Wayne Winegarden, a senior research fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, said the rule would be costly for rail companies and the increased costs would lead to higher prices for many goods transported by rail.

The Association of American Railroads said in a statement “there is no clear path to zero-emission locomotives.”

“To mandate this outcome ignores the complexity and interconnected nature of rail operations and the reality of the state of zero-emission locomotive technology and supporting infrastructure,” the group wrote.

Freight railroads are an efficient way to move about 1.6 billion tons of goods across the country nearly 140,000 miles (225,308 kilometers), much cleaner than if those goods were transported by truck, a he declared.

Union Pacific spokeswoman Kristen South said in a statement that the railroad wants regulators to continue working with them to come up with a more “balanced” solution that isn’t overly ambitious on technology and infrastructure. current.

Union Pacific is working to partially reduce greenhouse gas emissions by spending $1 billion to upgrade locomotives and test motors powered by electric batteries, South wrote.

“We need the toughest and most protective regulations on in-service locomotives because we know these CARB decisions impact not just California, but across the United States,” said Cecilia Garibay, project coordinator within the Moving Forward network, composed of 50 members, based at Occidental College. .

The EPA recently approved California rules requiring zero-emission trucks, depending on the type, to account for between 40% and 75% of sales by 2035.

Heidi Swillinger lives in a mobile home park in San Pablo, a small town in the San Francisco Bay area along the BNSF railroad. She estimates that her house is only 20 feet (6 meters) from the tracks. She said it’s not uncommon for diesel fumes to fill her home, resulting in a “thick, pungent, dirty smell”.

“Nobody wants to live next to a train track,” Swillinger said. “You are moving next to a train track because you have no other options.”


Sophie Austin is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow Austin on Twitter: @sophieadanna

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