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    News in Depth

    Collision Course On Clean Air Standards: AQMD Adopts Tougher Locomotive Anti-Idling Rules Than CARB-RR MOU Accepted Statewide; Next Step Up To RRs

    (February 4, 2006) -- In a dramatic, high-visibility challenge to a controversial "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU) negotiated last year by the CA Air Resources Board and CA's major railroads (BNSF and Union Pacific), the South Coast Air Quality Management District's (AQMD) governing board has voted unanimously to adopt rules to reduce railroad locomotive idling in the region on terms more stringent than the CARB-RR MOU accepted statewide.

    The AQMD board's February 3 vote -- again -- transcended traditional ideological lines on a major goods-movement related issue. Pro-business voices on the AQMD board including L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and Chino Mayor Dennis Yates were -- again -- among the most plain spoken in insisting that the region (disproportionately impacted by LA-LB Port-related operations) deserves stricter rules than the weaker standards CARB and the RRs accepted statewide.

    "It's the railroads at this time who have been fighting a very necessary change in their policies which have proved to be detrimental to their neighbors and to the communities that they serve, and so I support the position that the Board has been taking on this issue," Supervisor Antonovich said.

    The new rules go beyond the CARB-RR MOU by limiting idling to 30 minutes (instead of 60 minutes in the statewide agreement), requiring record keeping and weekly reporting (not in the state agreement)...and limiting exemptions while the AQMD says the MOU "allows broad and vaguely defined exemptions."

    In a written release, AQMD said its stricter requirements "address the urgent need to reduce smog-forming and toxic emissions from Southland railroad operations. Adoption of Rule 3501 and Rule 3502 follows a thorough review by AQMD's legal staff and outside counsel of federal and state statutes that demonstrates AQMD's legal authority for adopting the rules."

    At the AQMD meeting (monitored via internet webcast by, BNSF's government affairs director testified on BNSF's behalf and on behalf of Association of American Railroads and Union Pacific, urging AQMD not to adopt the new locomotive anti-idling rules:

    I respectfully urge the Board to vote 'no' on the adoption of the proposed rules. We believe that the requirements of the proposed rules duplicate and contradict the provisions of the June 2005 statewide Memorandum of Understanding between the railroads and the state of California. The 2005 MOU is a better way to achieve results of these rules. The MOU provides a statewide, consistent, comprehensive framework to achieve emissions reductions from locomotive idling.

    Let me explain why we believe this...All of our new locomotives come with factory equipped shut-down devices...Through the 2005 MOU, the railroads have made a commitment to retrofit automatic shutdown devices on virtually all of our existing CA based fleet of locomotives on an expeditious time frame...

    While we respect the interests and concerns of the south coast air basin, the railroads that serve California believe a uniform, statewide, consistent methodology is best for all stakeholders

    An AQMD Boardmember queried that RR advocate:

    Q: ...I think that's very commendable [regarding the idling device] if that's the case, this rule if it goes forward really shouldn't affect you.

    RR industry rep: The proposed rules have additional onerous reporting requirements that are not contained in the MOU and we believe that the MOU achieves the emissions reductions by the proposed rules.

    AQMD new rules Rule 3501 (recordkeeping) and 3502 (minimizing emissions from locomotive idling) take effect in August and affect four freight RRs in the region: Union Pacific, BNSF Railway Co., L.A. Junction Railway and Pacific Harbor Line, Inc. [the latter a switching line operating within the Port of LB]. Passenger locomotives are exempt.

    Under Rule 3501, RR's must keep records of all locomotive idling lasting more than 30 minutes, provide data on the amount of emissions from idling trains and assist in identifying ways to reduce these emissions. Locomotives equipped with an anti-idling device, or alternative technology such as liquefied natural gas fuel or a battery-hybrid system, are exempt from the requirement.

    Rule 3502 prohibits unattended locomotives from idling more than 30 minutes if they are stopped for a crew change or meal breaks, within or queuing in rail yards; or performing maintenance or testing that does not require the locomotive to operate. The rule also prohibits trailing locomotives from idling longer than 30 minutes if a dispatcher notifies an operator of a delay, or if the operator is aware of a delay that is expected to last more than 30 minutes due to locomotive breakdowns. Trailing locomotives are those used to pull the train but follow the lead locomotive.

    Individual locomotives are exempted if equipped with anti-idling devices, or if the railroad can demonstrate an alternative strategy that will achieve equivalent emission reductions to those expected from the rule.

    The AQMD board's vote to adopt the locomotive rules leaves the RRs with options including: (1) comply with the new AQMD rules; or (2) sue to void the new AQMD rules saying they're preempted by federal law and/or (3) withdraw from all or part of the MOU statewide, or regionally (here).

    Some AQMD boardmembers predicted the next shoe to drop: "I expect we'll be sued by the end of business Monday," said AQMD boardmember (and Chino Mayor) Dennis Yates in pressing forward with the Board's action. Boardmember (and Santa Ana Mayor) Miguel Pulido commented, "I'd rather take a position and get sued than dance around this and say let's try to avoid a confrontation. I think we need a confrontation because the present is not a good situation and I think we can definitely do better."

    Noting that the RR industry rep advocated a statewide standard, Mayor Pulido added, "I think we do need a standard statewide, but it should be the higher standard that we're trying to adopt, not a lower standard that we have right now."

    In capping the discussion, AQMD board chair Dr. William Burke said:

    I think that what has happened with this MOU has put a spotlight on CARB which almost paints them in the same picture as the railroads...I think that this case has already been tried. It's already been tried in the court of public opinion and both the railroads and CARB have lost there.

    Now it's not a fatal loss for them, and I'm sure that they'll try and recover from that, but for the people that CARB serves, I think that they have wounded themselves significantly, and with all the disagreements I've had with them over the past dozen or so years I've never come away with the feeling of almost shame being involved.

    The MOU, the way it was concocted and the manner in which it's been defended, is shameful.

    For over six months, AQMD has protested to CARB that the MOU's "termination [walk away] clause" (which AQMD calls a "poison pill") lets the RRs use potential withdrawal from the MOU statewide as leverage to deter AQMD and other regional agencies from adopting tougher clean air measures than the RR backed-MOU contained. CARB has called AQMD's concerns speculative.

    The AQMD board action publicly tests this...effectively daring the RRs to withdraw from the MOU (validating AQMD's concerns) and/or sue (inviting a court fight AQMD says it can win).

    As previously reported by, on January 27 CARB's governing board in Sacramento heard testimony from LB Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga consistent with the LB City Council's view (9-0 vote, Sept. 2005) supporting AQMD and opposing the MOU, followed by testimony from the LB Chamber of Commerce (via VP of Gov't Affairs Janet Nguyen) in support of the MOU. The contrast prompted CARB (and AQMD Boardmember) Ron Loveridge (Mayor of Riverside) to ask the Chamber for its stance on environmental justice. VP Nguyen said the LB Chamber supports environmental benefits but also takes "into consideration hundreds of thousands of jobs that the Ports also bring into our city," a response Loveridge called "vague and unacceptable."

    For her part, Councilwoman Reyes Uranga has agendized an item for the Council's February 7 agenda reporting on the Sacramento advocacy:

    I would like to request an opportunity to address the City Council on my recent advocacy of City issues at the State of California Air Resources Board (CARB) Meeting and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) Conference in Sacramento, California. While my to travel to Sacramento for the Latino Health Conference was paid by NALEO, I took this opportunity to testify before CARB to oppose the Memorandum of Understand affecting rail yards operating near the Port in West Long Beach. I believe a report regarding the City's efforts to clean our air and health issues affecting a large population of our City is timely and important for the well being of our residents. Additional information will be provided for the presentation to Council

    The item is currently on the Council's "consent" calendar" (items usually approved without discussion) but can be pulled for discussion if requested by a Councilmember or the public.

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