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AQMD to Fight Challenge to Locomotive Emissions Rules

March 7, 2006

Southland air quality officials vowed to vigorously defend their recently adopted rules to reduce locomotive emissions in the wake of a court challenge filed today by the railroads.

“The railroads are responsible for a huge amount of air pollution, and unlike oil refineries, power plants and even the auto industry, they have done relatively little compared to other sources to reduce their emissions,” said William A. Burke, AQMD’s Governing Board Chairman.

“Railroads also have a history of procrastinating or blocking the use of feasible pollution controls,” Burke said.  “Now they want the public to pay hundreds of millions from the Governor’s bond proposal to help expand their facilities -- and in doing so, increase their pollution.”

In their court papers, attorneys for Union Pacific Railroad Co., BNSF Railway Co. and the American Association of Railroads argued that AQMD is prohibited from adopting any locomotive emission regulations under the federal Clean Air Act, the federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act and other federal laws.

AQMD attorneys and outside legal experts maintain that the agency’s railroad rules are not preempted by the federal Clean Air Act because they do not specify a design or construction for locomotives, and that they do not impermissibly interfere with interstate rail operations in violation of the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act.

In an effort to reduce the public health risk from locomotive emissions, AQMD’s Governing Board has adopted three rules:

  • Rule 3501, adopted on Feb. 3, requiring railroads in the region to keep records of all locomotive engine idling lasting more than 30 minutes, unless a locomotive is equipped with an anti-idling device;
  • Rule 3502, also adopted Feb. 3, prohibiting unnecessary locomotive idling for more than 30 minutes, unless a locomotive is equipped with an anti-idling device; and
  • Rule 3503, adopted on Oct. 7, 2005, requiring 19 freight railyards in the region to submit emissions inventories and health risk assessments to AQMD.

AQMD’s regulations are more stringent than requirements of a June 2005 voluntary agreement between the California Air Resources Board (CARB), Union Pacific and BNSF.  And unlike the voluntary agreement, AQMD’s regulations are legally enforceable and subject the railroads to strict penalties if they do not comply with the rules.

Health Risks from Locomotives

Locomotives in Southern California emit about 33 tons per day of smog- and particulate-forming nitrogen oxides – as much as the combined total emitted by the 350 largest factories and facilities in the region.  Locomotives also are a significant source of noise, odors and toxic diesel particulate emissions.

A health risk assessment conducted by CARB in October 2004 at the Union Pacific J.R. Davis Yard in Roseville showed that the maximum average off-site diesel particulate matter cancer risks from the facility ranged from 900 to 1,000 in 1 million.  In comparison, AQMD regulations prohibit any facility such as a power plant or oil refinery from posing a greater cancer risk than 25 in 1 million.  Almost all facilities pose less than a 10 in 1 million risk.

Many trains operate or idle next to neighborhoods and schools causing public nuisance and serious public health concerns.  During the past three years, AQMD has received about 300 complaints of smoke and odors from trains and idling locomotives, including reports of unattended trains left idling for hours at a time.  AQMD has issued several violation notices for public nuisances caused by such excessive idling.

In spite of the magnitude of their pollution problem, railroads have done little to voluntarily reduce their emissions, and in at least three instances have blocked the development of cleaner technology.

In the mid 1990s, AQMD sponsored a major research initiative to test the feasibility of low-emission, liquefied natural-gas powered locomotives.  The study, conducted by Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, was co-sponsored by EMD (formerly owned by General Motors), the world’s largest manufacturer of diesel-electric locomotives.  Although small-scale tests showed promising results for emission reductions, EMD pulled out of the partnership just prior to a planned field demonstration and effectively prevented testing of the technology in locomotives.

Diesel particulate filters have been successfully demonstrated in Europe to reduce diesel particulate emissions from locomotives.  Although this technology can easily be adapted for use in the United States, and the railroads committed to demonstrating this technology in this country in a 1998 voluntary agreement with CARB, progress in demonstrating these filters has been dismal, AQMD officials said.

Last year, CARB received a proposal from General Electric, another major locomotive manufacturer, to demonstrate diesel particulate filter technology on locomotives.  Just days after CARB announced its voluntary agreement with Union Pacific and BNSF, GE informed CARB that it intended to withdraw its proposal, citing unforeseen additional expenses.  GE maintained its position even after AQMD offered to cover the additional expenses.

“CARB’s voluntary agreement with the railroads does not require them to demonstrate clean technologies,” said Barry Wallerstein, AQMD’s executive officer.  “We believe GE dropped its research proposal when it became clear there would be no regulatory pressure to demonstrate cleaner locomotives.”

While railroads are not aggressively pursuing cleaner technologies, they are actively seeking public funding to expand their facilities.  For example, one project in the state’s Goods Movement Action Plan (Phase I) to be funded through the Governor’s bond proposal – a new BNSF Railway Co. near-dock facility in the Port of Los Angeles – is expected to cost taxpayers $176 million.  Another project in the goods movement plan estimates $158 million is needed to expand BNSF and Union Pacific near-dock rail facilities in the ports.

“Railroads simply have not shown a good faith effort to be part of the solution to Southern California’s air quality problems,” Wallerstein said.  “If AQMD doesn’t pursue its regulations, the railroads will continue to subject our residents to excessive pollution and health risk.”

AQMD is the air pollution control agency for Orange County and major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

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