News & Reviews News Wire California locomotive emissions regulations can be tougher than federal standards, EPA says

California locomotive emissions regulations can be tougher than federal standards, EPA says

By Bill Stephens | November 10, 2023

The rail industry is still challenging California Air Resources Board’s more stringent emissions standards

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Green and white locomotive with black stripes on nose
The EMD Joule SD70J beginning testing at Pacific Harbor Line is on display at a May 4 graduation ceremony for locomotive engineers. David Lustig

WASHINGTON — California and other states can enact tougher locomotive emissions standards than those imposed by the federal government, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said this week.

The policy change, which goes into effect on Dec. 8, means the California Air Resources Board’s controversial locomotive emissions regulations will not run afoul of federal preemption of state and local regulations.

“This rule implements a policy change to no longer categorically preempt certain State regulations of non-new locomotives and engines, aligning with the plain text of the Clean Air Act, and better achieving the legislative intent of providing for exclusive Federal regulation of new locomotives and new locomotive engines while preserving the ability of California and other States to adopt and enforce certain State standards regulating non-new locomotives and engines,” the EPA said in a Federal Register notice this week.

Railroads have opposed the new California regulations, which they say will limit the useful life of today’s locomotive fleet of more than 25,000 units and mandate their replacement with zero-emissions locomotives. The rules also threaten the viability of the state’s short lines, which generally cannot afford to replace their locomotives with expensive new ones.

The Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association have filed suit against the CARB regulations in federal court. The suit seeks to delay implementation of the regulations until legal challenges are resolved.

“Railroads remain confident in the strength of the ongoing litigation and its ultimate outcome as the Clean Air Act provisions central to the case remain unchanged by the EPA rulemaking,” Association of American Railroads spokeswoman Jessica Kahanek says.

19 thoughts on “California locomotive emissions regulations can be tougher than federal standards, EPA says

  1. Why did the railroads go to the EPA to fight. You know with this administration they had a snowballs chance in hell of winning. Should have gone to the Federal court in a RED state. Not saying they would win but their chances would be better than zero.

  2. Trying to atone for the tragic mistake of ripping up the PE system and replacing it with freeways and super highways and selling everybody on the idea of auto transport as the way of the future and greater mobility by building new transit lines and requiring new locomotives to have tougher emission standards is not going to erase over 80 years of carelessness or disregard for the envirnoment. California didn’t look to the future with regards on how total dependence on cars and highways would eventually rear up and bite California. Now everybody there is going overboard with ecco friendly and green locomotives, cars and even building and homes Nice try, it might stem the downfall somewhat but the damage is and has already been done and you can’t correct or change what damage has already been done. These new changes and ideas might help somewhagt but it is costing billions of dollars in new equipment and intrastructure and like the PE system which was a model of transit efficiency and operation , can’t be replaced or duplicated. Sure newc transit lines and LRV routes arre being planned and built but those lines can never take the place of what both the PE and LA Railway were able to accomplish. Here is a fact to ponder and study . The PE System served such a large area of Southern California and Los Angeles that even the NVC Subway system, one of the largest in the world would fit right inside the PE System. Also as mentioned in another post, Electrifcation is great and energy efficient and clean. but very expensive to build and install and any costs associated with such construction and operation have to be out weighted by the ability of such lines to turn a profit and cover the expense of operation and for healthy and robust ridership and not to mention extra security and protection around the power plants, the overhead wires and tracks and equipment. During a war or a terrorist attack, An electrified rail line is the first thing that is subject to attack or bombing because an enemy wants to make the greatest impact and destruction on something that is vital to the publicand used extensively. Getting back to the main theme of this post, It is going to take years and generations to reverse the downward trend of California’s envirnoment and already too much has been wasted and can;t be changed or reversed
    Joseph C. Markfelder

    1. Yes, lack of long-term planning will bite you in the butt every time. California has over grown and now has pollution problems in the air and lack of water to sustain its growth. Good job Cal-Dems…

  3. Playing Mr. Obvious, the solution is to string catenary. Problem solved. Capacity increases with a more efficient locomotive fleet. Class 1s resist the obvious because the payback isn’t in the next quarter or their “long term” view of next year. Executives have no interest in share prices in 10 years, nor do their hedge fund masters.

    1. Except that this is a state that has an unreliable electrical distribution system and has regular rolling backups in the warmer months.

    2. Capital for investment is a scarce resource. It should used where it will generate the best returns. Not only is catenary expensive but it will require substantial new investment in new generating capacity (which is basically illegal in California unless it’s solar or maybe bird-killing wind).

  4. So, CA wants BNSF and UP to exchange locomotives at the border? Either that, or stop their trains at the border and have all those clean battery-electric trucks pick up the freight there?

    1. Yes, and think of all the extra trucks that will ply the roads once the short lines are forced to give up for lack of finances. They should all ban together and file a class action lawsuit against CARB for depriving them of their right to exist. If anything, it may force California to provide grants and/or low interest loans so they can purchase, lease or modify their current fleets so that they comply and continue to operate.

  5. Great news for Vancouver and Prince Rupert, both with expansions underway.
    Plus several sailing days closer to Asia.

    1. As a California resident, this is EXACTLY what I was thinking. The CA ports are already not cost competitive with the Canadian ports. Over time, more and more share will migrate there. Keep an eye on BNSF’s Barstow International Gateway project. If they delay or cancel it that will be the sign that they expect this to be a disaster for port of LA/LB.

  6. It is 144 miles from Yuma, Arizona, to the Pacific Ocean along Mexico’s northern border. Just an observation.

  7. Thanks California for screwing up an already screwed up economy. No state should be allowed to make rules or regulations tougher than the federal rules.

  8. The railroads could just not haul the freight in California. for a month or so. The backup would cripple the economy and the federal government would have to find a compromise.

    1. Why for just a month? Clear-Cut the trackage, bridges, and other facilities. Never to return. Ever.

      The only way to kill the beast is to starve it.

  9. Requiring a company to replace an existing piece of equipment that has a service life of 50 to 60 useful years because it’s not politically clean does nothing for an environment——-nothing comes from thin air and all machines are made with many different raw materials that either have to be mined or drilled etc…… it’s an argument that can be made to a rational population, yet behold we are in an era full of irrational chicken littles that think the sky is definitely falling. The trade is a tit for a tat environmentally, there’s no way around it. The mine owners and oil drillers are having a field day with the enviro clean air electric movement.

  10. And just like all these other climate change mandates costing $trillions the impact on climate change will be close to zero ( or maybe even negative) when considering the “unseen” costs as described in the 19th century by the French Classical economist Frederic Bastiat in his essay on the seen and the unseen. Wait until they come after operating steam locomotives-unless they run on battery powered air compressors!

  11. So the state is willing to let shorelines go under if they cannot afford to replace their engines with clean burning or electric engines- which are both a farce environmentally and allow all that potential traffic on the roads that are already a complete mess……man I need to get out of this fools paradise and start anew in free America……….

    1. (not to rub it in, though I’m glad I don’t live in California right now, yes sounds like they’re really going downhill fast.)

      There must be some legal reasoning to this EPA decision that isn’t explained in the above article, but what is the rationale for states to decide what emissions standards they wish to enforce, even if its stricter than current EPA standards? Isn’t the question of environmental regulation really a federal responsibility and prerogative? Federalism? This decision might set legal precedence such that states can decide their own water-quality standards as well as other environmental standards such that they supersede federal environmental regulations and standards.

      Then why is there a need for the EPA? Then again, with regards to current trends (and usefulness) at federal government, maybe getting rid of the EPA might not be a bad thing?

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