Chorus of diverse voices, railroads urge EPA denial of California Locomotive Authorization

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) this week filed comments (EPA-HQ-2023-0574) with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), calling on the agency to reject an authorization request from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to implement a locomotive regulation that was finalized last year. The rule bans the operation of any locomotive that is 23 years or older from operating in California starting in 2030 — prematurely retiring viable locomotives that help make rail the most fuel-efficient way to move goods over land. Starting in 2030 for switch, industrial, and passenger locomotives — and 2035 for line haul locomotives — new locomotives can only operate in the state if they are “zero-emissions locomotives.” AAR argues the regulation is infeasible and will yield counterproductive environmental results while disrupting the interconnected nature of the national freight rail network.

Ian Jefferies headshot

Ian Jefferies

“Railroads continue to invest billions to reduce their environmental impact, a major reason why carriers contribute less than one percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” said Ian Jefferies, President and CEO of the Association of American Railroads. “Yet California insists on using unreasonable, flawed assumptions to support a rule that will not result in emissions reductions. AAR and its members present a clear and compelling set of facts to the EPA, and we are joined by a wide range of our customers and other critical stakeholders who underscore the myriad negative impacts associated with the rule. We urge the Biden administration to heed these calls and make the right choice, putting rail on a better and more logical path to continued emissions reductions.”

AAR’s comments include these key arguments:

  • Complying with the regulation’s timeline is impossible given the current state of research and development into zero emissions locomotive technology.
  • Because of the interstate nature of railroad operations, California’s regulation amounts to a national rule. For critical reasons, including protection of the healthy and efficient flow of national commerce, regulation of the national rail network is a federal matter, and no single state should set policy for the entire nation. Both the Clean Air Act and the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 bar California from taking this action.

A review of the public comments currently available reflect that a wide range of industries, legislators and experts also oppose the authorization request: 

  • A coalition of more than 25 national agricultural organizations and more than 50 state agricultural groups from across the country, representing all portions of production — from fertilizers to commodities — discussed the effect on rail service and getting goods to market.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and more than 130 state and local chambers stressed economic harm. Additionally, 206 state-based business organizations signed a letter filed by the Illinois Manufacturers Association.
  • A group of major U.S. industries, led by the National Association of Manufacturers and representing the gamut of the economy — trucking, retailers, builders, contractors, beer, wholesalers, food companies, warehousing, lumber, paper, wood, plastics, fuel providers, fuel stations and a range of energy sources — argued the rule would hurt millions of Americans.
  • The Rail Customer Coalition (RCC), representing industries tied closely to the viability of reliable rail transportation, filed on behalf of roughly 75 national and state organizations. Industries represented included manufacturing, agricultural, and energy — including the cross-section of chemical companies responsible for U.S. energy dominance.
  • The “Joint Associations” — some of the largest users of freight rail — including the Private Railcar Food and Beverage Association, American Forest and Paper Association, Consumer Brands Association, Freight Rail Customer Alliance, National Coal Transportation Association, National Industrial Transportation League, and Western Coal Traffic League —voiced grave concern.
  • Downstream, county advocates — through representation in Washington, D.C. — argued that the regulation will divert freight to strained highway systems while running afoul of a more appropriate approach coordinated between federal, state and local governments.
  • Environmental advocates at the American Conservation Coalition, C3 Solutions and ConservAmerica argued that the rule will have counterproductive results in terms of emissions reductions. At the same time, consumer advocates argued the rule would raise costs by picking winners and losers and fail to meet long-term consumer needs.

Critically, policymakers have also weighed in. This includes a letter from U.S. Senators Pete Ricketts (R-NE), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Joe Manchin (D-WV), John Boozman (R-AR), Mike Braun (R-IN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Deb Fischer (R-NE), John Hoeven (R-ND), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Roger Marshall (R-KS), and Roger Wicker (R-MS). Most recently, the majority of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee asserted their authority in this area.

Additionally, the U.S Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy emphasized the disproportionate harm the CARB rule would have on short line railroads, including the ability to put many out of business.

“Taken together, the public record reflects wide-reaching opposition to this misguided California rule,” added Jefferies. “We look forward to future discussions with the EPA to reinforce our public comments.”

The rule remains the subject of litigation in California. The EPA is not obligated to rule on the authorization request and is not bound by a deadline. Additional comments filed at the EPA should appear publicly in the future.