On June 16, the railroad industry sued to block CARB’s emission environmental rules in California. The industry argues that California’s plan on climate change would force the premature retirement of about 25,000 diesel-powered locomotives across the country.
California’s plan to move the state away from fossil fuels has resulted in vigorous environmental regulation. In 2020, the state announced they would ban the sale of new gas-powered cars, lawn equipment and trucks by the middle of the next decade.
While those regulations focus on the sale of combustible engines, the latest rule would ban the use of locomotives more than 23 years old starting in 2023.
The rule would also require the railroads to set aside more than $1 billion a year for purchasing zero-emission locomotives and related equipment.
Due to the role California ports play and the process of which railroads pass off trains to each other, the state’s mandate would have effects nationwide.
The federal lawsuit asks a judge to declare that the California Air Resources Board does not have the authority to impose these regulations. The railroad group claims that only the federal government can impose these regulations since the interconnected rails cross state lines.
More than 500 companies share the 180,000 miles of track in 49 states, Mexico, and Canada.
The rail industry also says technology on zero-emission locomotives has not been tested enough and it is not ready to be implemented into the 30 million cargo loads of freight nationwide each year.
“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 say in their lawsuit that the rules show regulators’ “lack of experience with and understanding of the railroad industry.”
Lys Mendez, CARB spokesperson says the board has not seen the lawsuit and declines to comment.
The board says the rules will dramatically reduce pollution from nitrogen oxides, which contribute to the formation of smog, and a type of tiny pollutants that can penetrate deep into a person’s lungs and has been linked to cancer.
They estimate it will save $32 billion in health care costs and prevent 3,200 premature deaths.
Adrian Martinez, a lawyer with environmental nonprofit Earthjustice, called the fate of the California rule “a matter of life and death.”
“There’s generally been a reckless disregard from the rail industry for saving lives from air pollution, and this is just another feather in their cap in their pursuit of continuing to burn really dirty diesel fuel,” Martinez said of the lawsuit.
Last fall, the EPA said they would consider tightening up the regulations for locomotive pollution that were established in 2008, but California acted first.
California has some of the most severe air quality in the country, and this is primarily due to the transportation sector.
The Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the busiest ports in the world, which are the main causes of the air quality.
The top four most polluted cities for ozone and year-round particle pollution in the U.S. are all in California, according to the American Lung Association’s 2023 State of the Air report.